To some, Alaska’s announcement that it would try to entice travelers by offering COVID-19 vaccinations at its airports might signal the state’s plucky resolve and determination to revive a tourism industry that has been devastated by the pandemic.
To others, it’s a sign of everything that is wrong with the way that the United States is distributing its vaccines, as calls for more doses in surge-stricken Michigan are rebuffed.
“It’s hard for me to believe that we’ve so maldistributed a vaccine as to make this necessary,” said Dr. Larry Brilliant, a public health researcher who was part of the effort to eradicate smallpox in the 1970s. “You don’t want to exchange a bad carbon footprint for a vaccination.”
Starting June 1, any tourist traveling to Alaska will be able to receive a Pfizer or Moderna vaccine at the Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau or Ketchikan airports. It’s part of a larger multimillion-dollar marketing campaign, funded by federal stimulus money, to attract tourists back to the state, Gov. Mike Dunleavy of Alaska, a Republican, announced.
“We believe there’s a real opportunity to get folks to come to Alaska again,” Dunleavy said at a news conference on Friday.
Alaska is the latest state to announce plans to extend vaccine eligibility to nonresidents as production and distribution have increased around the country. Twenty-one other states do not have residency requirements for vaccination, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Some U.S. experts have worried for months about the growth in “vaccine tourism” — Americans crossing state lines to get a vaccine where there are excess doses. Virologists like Brilliant say that rather than incentivizing people to fly to Alaska to get a shot from the state’s abundant vaccine supply, doses should be redistributed to states most in need and no longer be allocated strictly by population.
Alaska is not lacking vaccines, said Heidi Hedberg, the state’s director of public health. Health administrators will begin the airport vaccine program for tourists at the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, with a five-day trial at the end of April to gauge interest. Some visitors may have to get their second dose of mRNA vaccines in their home states, depending on how long they remain in Alaska.
Almost 40% of Alaskans have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, according to a New York Times database.