Alaska expands vaccine eligibility to age 55 plus, ‘essential workers’ and others

a nurse administers a vaccine to a patient
Anchorage Health Department public health nurse Molly Carver administers the COVID-19 vaccine to Malia Tuga at the community vaccine clinic held at Manai Fou Assembly of God Church in Airport Heights on Feb. 23, 2021. (Jeff Chen/Alaska Public Media)

Alaska is opening COVID-19 vaccines to all Alaskans age 55 and older, those deemed “essential workers” and other groups, the state announced Wednesday. 

With the shift into Phase 1c, Alaskans now qualify for vaccines if they live in multigenerational homes or in communities with limited running water or sewage systems. “Essential workers” are now eligible, a broad category including people in critical manufacturing, finance, transportation, communication, and other jobs. And it opens vaccines to those who could be at high-risk for serious illness, as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The new essential worker criteria makes 103,000 more Alaskans eligible for vaccine, according to a press release from the office of Gov. Mike Dunleavy.

A detailed description of who is newly eligible under Phase 1c can be found on the state’s vaccine website.

As of Tuesday morning, Alaska had over 2,000 open appointments on its vaccine website. 

Alaska has been working faster than many other states, allowing new groups to be vaccinated. In February, the state opened vaccinations to teachers, high-risk Alaskans over 50, and workers and residents of congregate facilities. Alaska’s tribal health system has played a large role in the state’s high vaccination rates, receiving praise for efficiently administering vaccines to Native and non-Native Alaskans in far-flung communities across the state. Southcentral Foundation, Anchorage’s main tribal healthcare provider, recently opened vaccines to all residents over 40.

And it’s paying off. For several weeks, Alaska has held the top spot in the country for proportion of vaccinated residents. Almost a quarter of the state has received at least one dose, according to the New York Times. The state got a higher-than-expected allocation of vaccines in March, and there has been encouraging news nationally about vaccine production. President Joe Biden recently announced that by May, there would be enough vaccines for every adult American. 

But health experts say there are concerning signs, with COVID-19 with cases starting to creep up in many areas after falling dramatically in January and February. In Alaska, cases have fallen since their December highs, but have plateaued at high September and November levels. 

State labs have also recently detected troubling new variants, such as the P.1 variant that originated in Brazil which some scientists fear can reinfect people who’ve already had COVID-19. Health officials are racing to vaccinate as many Alaskans as possible before new, more transmissible variants take over. 

This story has been updated.