Dropping its eligibility requirements, the Last Frontier now leads the nation in doses given per capita.
(CN) — Alaska is the first state in the nation that will vaccinate anyone over the age of 16 who lives or works there, Governor Mike Dunleavy has announced.
Alaska’s small population explains some of the state’s success. Many other states have distributed more shots than Alaska, where the roughly 291,000 doses so far administered translates to a vaccination rate significantly higher than the same number would represent elsewhere in the country.
Still, Alaska has so far distributed over 42,000 doses per 100,000 people — the highest rate in the nation, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
But with a vast territory spread over a region nearly four times the size of California, the state still faced a significant challenge.
The government has so far managed to vaccinate nearly 90% of seniors in areas including Kodiak Island, the Petersburg Borough, and the Kusilvak Census Area, Dunleavy said Tuesday. Other regions have done even better across age groups. In the Nome Census Area, over 60% of people age 16 and over have gotten at least one shot.
Dunleavy said Alaska would remove all eligibility requirements, offering the Pfizer vaccine to anyone 16 and older, and the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and the Moderna vaccine to 18 and older.
“A healthy community means a healthy economy,” Dunleavy said. “With widespread vaccinations available to all Alaskans who live or work here, we will no doubt see our economy grow and our businesses thrive.”
Adam Crum, commissioner of the state health department, encouraged residents to take advantage of the new offer.
“If Alaskans had any questions about vaccine eligibility and criteria, I hope today’s announcement clears it up for you,” Crum said. “Simply put, you are eligible to get the vaccine.”
As of Wednesday, about 62.4 million people in the U.S. have gotten at least one dose, according to the CDC, while 32.9 million Americans are fully vaccinated.
Vaccine hesitancy is another factor that could be at play. In Idaho, Department of Health and Welfare director Dave Jeppesen announced Tuesday that while about 55% of residents age 65 and over have so far had at least one shot, demand among that age group had dropped. As a result, the some vaccines were going unused, he said.
Idaho has so far distributed over 497,000 shots, at a rate of roughly 27,000 per 100,000 residents.
Idaho responded to lagging demand by ramping up eligibility for younger age groups, but not to the extent Alaska has done.
Still, Dunleavy insisted that it was the strength of Alaska’s pandemic response — not vaccine hesitancy or Alaska’s miniscule population — that allowed the state to scrap the eligibility requirements that still restrict vaccine rollouts in all other 49 states.
“I couldn’t be prouder of Alaska’s response,” Dunleavy said. “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.”