Just under a year after discovery of first COVID-19 case in America, Kodiak residents receive first dose of vaccine

Hugh Kennan receives a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.

Some locals outside of Kodiak’s healthcare institutions are finally getting access to the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. The doses are few, but the relief is great.

In Kodiak, things are done a little differently. And getting vaccinated for COVID-19 is no exception. Those 65 or older drove up to the AAA Moving and Storage facility to receive doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine Wednesday from a drive-through clinic run by Kodiak Island Ambulatory Care. Dr. Shana Theobald was on-scene coordinating the effort and administering doses of the vaccine.

Dr. Shana Theobald holds up a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

“We are making history, doing our first COVID-19 drive through vaccination clinic. This is where we can get as many people vaccinated, keeping them you know, socially distanced, physically distanced in their cars, and also being able to administer around 200… hopefully a little bit more than 200 doses within a short period of time,” Theobald said. “So we were having people come to clinic one at a time, and it was taking about, you know, 15 minutes for the clinic staff. And in this way, we can kind of just maximize our resources and get as many people vaccinated in the shortest amount of time possible.”

And like a lot of things in Kodiak, running the vaccination clinic was a team effort.

Coast Guard police officers guided an hours-long line of cars through a covered warehouse, with shuttered doors on either side. Four cars drive in, the doors shut on either side of them, and a nurse comes to every car. They ask for paperwork, administer the shot, and when the whole line has been vaccinated, the shutters open and the cars file out to be replaced with another line of cars. Those who just received their dose park outside the warehouse, and wait 15 minutes in case they have an allergic reaction. When the waiting period is up, they’re on their way- hopefully with some peace of mind.

Recipients of the vaccine also receive a card with their date for the next dose of the vaccine; the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine requires two doses to be effective.  But the doses are in short supply, and as Dr. Theobald explains, not everyone can get a dose.

“Right now, if you are 65 and older, if you have really serious high risk medical conditions– people that have diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, maybe some other underlying heart disease, those people are able to get it… I think the island has really already done most of their health care providers, you know, especially in the frontlines, nursing home staff, people who are giving the vaccine. That’s who can get it right now,” Theobald said.

The second batch of doses for those who received the vaccine Wednesday is in Anchorage, but it is expected to arrive in time for people to receive their second doses on February 3rd. The vaccine is paid for by the federal government, but the logistical cost of deploying and administering the vaccine is not. In almost all cases insurance covers that cost, but KMXT is awaiting comment from Kodiak Island Ambulatory Care as to what exactly that cost is. Interest is high; Kodiak Island Ambulatory care says there is already a long waiting list for the first dose.

Many Kodiak Islanders, like Hugh Kennen  felt a sense of peace after getting his injection.

“A great a great stress reliever, a great anxiety reliever. You know, I live in Larsen Bay, we got 50 people, we had eight people at one time they had COVID. So you can imagine being 78 years old, how much stress that creates. So I’ve I have a new meaning or a new understanding of what social distancing is,” Kennan said. “I had a friend of mine asked me once she came out. And I was standing there with a lady friend of mine. And he asked her what do you think of social distancing? And I said, don’t worry. We’ve been doing that for 10 years. And she said you had to wait 10 years and have a global pandemic to get that one liner in.”

But Kennen says COVID is no laughing matter.

“Everybody, every single soul should get it. It’s the only way we’re gonna kill it, right? Herd immunity is the name of the game.”

Kennan made the trip from Larsen Bay by charter plane. He encourages people to prepare in advance for the long lines.

“Oh, well, plan ahead. Because I didn’t plan to be in line for two and a half hours. But so planning is everything. Don’t come here with an eighth of a tank of gas because you won’t make it. So every time I stopped I had to shut the truck off so I wouldn’t run out of gas,” Kennan said.

While these doses are only available to a small portion of the population, and second doses are still weeks away, this day hopefully marks a turning point in the battle against COVID-19 on Kodiak, after nearly 1000 residents have been infected and five have died.

Editor’s note: This story amended to include more information on the cost of the vaccine.

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