- Alaska is the first state to broaden vaccination eligibility to those 16 and older.
- The state also currently has the highest vaccination rate with more than 16% fully vaccinated.
- In some regions, more than 90% of seniors have already been vaccinated.
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Alaska is the first US state to expand vaccine eligibility to those 16 and older, Governor Mike Dunleavy announced on Tuesday.
“This historic step is yet another nationwide first for Alaska, but it should come as no surprise. Since day one, your response to the pandemic has been hands-down the best in the nation,” Dunleavy said in a statement. “I couldn’t be prouder of Alaska’s response. From being the first state to offer widespread testing, to maintaining one of the lowest mortality rates in the country, to rolling out vaccinations to every willing Alaskan, we got here by working together.”
The state currently has the highest vaccination rate in the country, with 16.4% or 119,631 of its 728,903 residents fully vaccinated. More than 23% of the state’s residents – 171,749 people – have received at least their first dose.
More than 90% of seniors in regions like Kodiak Island, the Petersburg Borough, and the Kusilvak Census Area have already been vaccinated, the press release said.
The Pfizer vaccine is the only one available for those under 18 years old because it was studied on those who were 16, Dr. Anne Zink, the state’s chief medical officer, said in a live-streamed press conference.
The Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are available for those older than 18.
Zink said the decision was made because officials were seeing open vaccination appointments and wanted to make sure that anyone who wanted to get vaccinated was able to do so.
“This does feel like a gigantic milestone in so many ways to get to the point where we can offer protection for anyone who wants it in the state,” Zink said. “Soon, this virus will be a preventable disease if people choose to get vaccinated.”
During the press conference, Dunleavy said he himself had contracted COVID-19 and the experience of being isolated and potentially spreading it to his family made him want to get the vaccine.
While Dunleavy, a Republican, said getting vaccinated is a personal choice, he said he will be getting the vaccine and encouraged Alaskans to do the same.
“A healthy community means a healthy economy. With widespread vaccinations available to all Alaskans who live or work here, we will no doubt see our economy grow and our businesses thrive,” he said in the press release.