Alaska’s state health department is floating the idea of providing coronavirus vaccinations to travelers at the state’s busiest airports with the summer tourism and fishing seasons looming.
The department on Wednesday released a request for information to determine interest among potential contractors to provide a one-dose vaccine to interested travelers in a secure section of the airports in Anchorage, Juneau, Fairbanks and Ketchikan.
Implementing strategies to reduce the spread of COVID-19 through Alaska communities is critical with the levels of travel activity expected between May and October, the document said.
One of the vaccines available for emergency use is a one-dose shot, which the department says its Division of Public Health intends to use for such a program, subject to availability. Under emergency use authorizations, people 18 or older can receive the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The CDC considers people fully vaccinated two weeks after receiving a single-dose vaccine or two weeks after their second dose of a two-shot vaccine.
The state health department request asks interested contractors to provide staffing plans and estimates for what they think it would cost to administer the program.
Division of Public Health Director Heidi Hedberg told reporters Thursday said in addition to gauging interest among contractors, officials would need to wait for increased allocations of the vaccine from the federal government. But she said the state health department is looking at “sometime late spring, hopefully before tourist season picks up” for when it could set up vaccine sites at airports.
Officials have said Alaska continues to provide testing for COVID-19 at airports, though such tests are not required by the state after a disaster declaration ended last month.
Meanwhile, a debate is ongoing at the state Capitol over whether a disaster declaration is needed. Gov. Mike Dunleavy has argued it is not, and instead asked lawmakers for what he calls “limited tools to navigate what has become the endgame of COVID-19.”
Those would relate to such things as vaccine distribution, enhanced telehealth services; and having the necessary authority to access federal relief funds related to the state’s COVID-19 response, Dunleavy said in a letter to lawmakers.
Dunleavy’s administration in January proposed putting a disaster declaration in place through September. But it has since said that circumstances have changed. State health commissioner Adam Crum told lawmakers Wednesday he does not believe the state’s coronavirus metrics rise to the level of a disaster under state law.
According to the state health department, 27% of Alaskans ages 16 and older are considered fully vaccinated.
Dunleavy, a Republican, in his letter to lawmakers said declaring a disaster could “lead travelers to incorrectly assume that Alaska’s situation is deteriorating, jeopardizing the livelihoods of those working in one of our largest and hardest-hit industries.”
Still, some lawmakers argue they should err on the side of caution and provide Dunleavy with the powers available under state disaster laws, whether he uses them or not. Others have shown interest in providing limited powers.
The state has reported more than 59,000 known coronavirus cases among residents since the start of the pandemic and 309 related deaths.
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