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Zink: Disaster declaration expiration slows down vaccination process, doesn’t change mission

A bottle of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine is prepared for a staff member at Alaska Regional Hospital.
A bottle of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine is prepared for a staff member at Alaska Regional Hospital.(KTUU)
Published: Feb. 22, 2021 at 7:39 PM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - After Alaska’s COVID-19 disaster declaration expired earlier this month, Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink said the vaccination process has slowed down in the state.

The declaration gave the state the authority to allocate scarce resources, including the vaccine. On Monday, Zink said the state is in uncharted territory in some ways because of the expiration.

“The disaster declaration just allows us to pivot much more quickly to be able to respond to community needs to get vaccination out. And this is our big focus within the state right now,” Zink said. “And without that, it is making things slower and harder to pivot even though our mission is the same and we remain committed to getting it out.”

Leading health care providers and local governments continue to examine the impacts the expiration has as they try to combat the virus in the state.

Last week, Jared Koisin, the CEO of the Alaska State Hospitals and Nursing Homes Associations, said losing the declaration risked how the state distributes the vaccine and how health care providers treat the virus.

COVID-19 case counts have been dropping across Alaska, but Zink says some communities are having a hard time with vaccine allocation since the expiration.

“We have already started to see communities where they are exhausted, and they need to pivot in the way that they’re allocating vaccine or who they are using, and wanting to do contracts to make that happen, and we can’t do any emergency procurement at this point because of the disaster declaration ending,” she said. “So we are working through those communities to try to talk about what that means and what other ways can we go about it.”

According to Zink, the federal government will continue to send Alaska vaccines. State health officials are hoping they will know how many vaccine doses Alaska will get in March by Tuesday, and it could include the Johnson & Johnson vaccine if it get’s emergency approval.

“We are also anxiously awaiting the results of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine review,” Tessa Walker Linderman, co-lead of the Alaska Vaccine Task Force, said. “The FDA is meeting on Friday regarding the EOA and if all goes well, then we potentially anticipate having Johnson & Johnson in Alaska as early as next week.”

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