ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Differences in coronavirus vaccine eligibility between Alaska’s state and tribal systems has resulted in frustration among some who are waiting to receive the shots.
Anchorage’s main tribal health provider is vaccinating employees of its affiliated for-profit company and nonprofit organizations without regard to race, age or vulnerability, Alaska Public Media reported Saturday.
Some teachers, people with underlying conditions and others and others awaiting shots from the state government are upset about the discrepancy.
Southcentral Foundation has access to special vaccine shipments from the federal government, which has designated tribes as sovereign jurisdictions with their own authority to prioritize doses.
The foundation first opened vaccinations to its oldest Alaska Native “customer-owners” before expanding the pool to successively younger groups.
The organization recently allowed household members of customer-owners and employees to be vaccinated regardless of age or race.
The foundation is also developing plans to vaccinate people at Anchorage homeless shelters who lack access under the state’s priority framework.
Some of those who qualified said they wondered whether more vulnerable people should have been next in line, while public health experts and advocates questioned why the foundation was not prioritizing higher-risk populations.
Southcentral Foundation interim Chief Executive April Kyle said the organization remains focused on Native elders, prioritizing same-day access for those who may not have been willing to receive shots earlier. The foundation is also trying to ensure quick distribution of doses.
“Unless we get our supply out, we put at risk our ability to receive future supply,” Kyle said. “We need to keep it moving into the community, and that’s our charge, and I think we’re doing a pretty exciting job.”
Jan Carolyn Hardy of Anchorage advocacy organization Older Persons Action Group said she thinks the foundation should vaccinate groups including teachers, grocery store workers and older adults.
“We need to vaccinate these folks first, because they are at risk, and by gosh, we need them,” Hardy said. “I applaud the Native corporations and the Native associations. I’ve worked for them, and think the world of them. But we are all here together.”
Southcentral Foundation said it has administered more than 10,000 shots among the 91,000 people vaccinated statewide so far.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.