Bristol Bay's first COVID-19 vaccines to be administered Wednesday

Dec 22, 2020

"I think that's...going to help our community transition from this time of fearfulness and uncertainty to a time of celebration that we will finally be able to get our lives back to normalcy,” said Mary Swain, executive director of the Camai Community Health Center in Naknek.

Iliamna's first shipment of COVID-19 vaccines. Shannon Jonson, left, is with the Southcentral Foundation and Tim Laporte is with Iliamna Air Taxi. Tuesday, Dec. 22, 2020.
Credit Angel Miller

Bristol Bay will start vaccinating people against COVID-19 Wednesday. Health clinics in Iliamna and the Bristol Bay Borough are set to start administering the first Moderna COVID-19 vaccines.

Mary Swain is the executive director of the Camai Community Health Center in Naknek.

“We are very excited that we received our vaccine," she said at a regional panel Tuesday. "We got our first 100 doses. We will begin administering that tomorrow to community members that are in healthcare, fire, EMS.”

There are currently three active COVID-19 cases in the borough.

Swain said the clinic is still waiting to hear whether that first batch includes the second dose of the vaccine. Once they know that, they will inform the people next in line.

The clinic has recently been asking those who get tested whether they would get the vaccine. Swain says only about 10% have declined this first round of vaccine.

“That’s very encouraging that the community and the region as a whole is willing to get the vaccine. I think that’s what’s going to help our community transition from this time of fearfulness and uncertainty to a time of celebration that we will finally be able to get our lives back to normalcy.”

Over to the east, Iliamna is about to begin as well.

“They are receiving in Iliamna today some of the vaccinations and so the vaccination process in the northern part of the region is going to start,” Lake and Peninsula Borough Manager Nathan Hill said Tuesday.

Iliamna’s clinic is operated by the Southcentral Foundation. It’s not clear whether other communities in the Lake and Peninsula Borough will start receiving vaccines this week. The foundation hasn’t said.

In Dillingham, the Bristol Bay Area Health Corporation still plans to receive the first doses of the vaccine next week and begin administering it to healthcare workers at Kanakanak Hospital.

“We are planning on that distribution as soon as we get it, and then following the guidelines we will be distributing it more widely,” said Bernina Venua, the incident commander for the corporation’s COVID-19 response.

The Public Health Center in Dillingham will also receive a batch of the COVID-19 vaccine in early January. Nurse Gina Carpenter said in the coming days they will know how many doses and which brand of the vaccine they will receive.

Alaska saw a peak in the first week of December. The case numbers have since declined, but Dr. Bob Onders with the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium cautions that people must remain vigilant in practicing safety measures -- and in getting tested.

“Lower numbers, though good, we want to make sure that there’s enough testing ongoing out there to ensure that we’re detecting those cases as early as possible, and we know the Bristol Bay area has been very progressive in trying to get as much testing done as possible,” he said.

The Bristol Bay region has seen a downturn in the number of cases around the region recently. In the past 30 days, there have been 33 new confirmed cases. The Dillingham area has seen 19 cases, and the combined Bristol Bay plus Lake and Peninsula boroughs have had 14 cases.

Since the pandemic began, there have been 948 hospitalizations and 194 deaths around the state.

Contact the author at isabelle@kdlg.org or 907-842-2200.