On Friday, the Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy announced that COVID-19 vaccines would be made available at key airports starting June 1, in unveiling plans aimed at bolstering the state’s pandemic-battered tourist industry.
Dunleavy, a Republican, floated the idea for a national marketing campaign intended at luring tourists using federal aid money and said the vaccine offering is “probably another good reason to come to the state of Alaska in the summer.”
COVID-19 restrictions kept large cruise ships away last year, hitting hard businesses and communities, particularly in southeast Alaska, that rely heavily on summer tourism. Dunleavy along with other state leaders are pushing to allow large cruise ships to return to Alaska. He said the government has not ruled out suing the federal government, as Florida has, over the issue.
According to the state health department, around 40% of residents eligible for a vaccine in Alaska, who are 16 or older, are fully vaccinated. The health officials have been looking for new ways to encourage more people to get vaccinated.
Last month, Alaska was the first state to remove its restrictions on those who could get a COVID-19 vaccine, when it opened eligibility to anyone 16 years or older who lives or works in the state.
“There is an ample supply of vaccine,” said Heidi Hedberg, the state health department’s Division of Public Health director. She said the airport package will offer the two-dose Pfizer or Moderna vaccines.
Hedberg said that there is “a lot of vaccine availability,” in other states so if visitors are not still in Alaska when it’s time for their second dose, they can follow-up at a clinic or with their provider when they return home. The receivers of the first dose would need to make sure that if their first dose was with Pfizer, for example, that their second dose is also a Pfizer shot, Hedberg said.
The Alaska government plans to offer vaccines at airports in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau and Ketchikan, with the clinics outside the security area. Details released Friday differed from a department solicitation in March that included interest in using a one-dose vaccine subject to availability.
A “soft rollout” will be done by officials at the Anchorage airport for five days in late April, between 5 p.m. and 2 a.m., to be able to work through logistics, said Hedberg. The state will use a current contractor for mobile clinics for the trial run, and it would be for Alaskans traveling in or through the airport, she said.
Starting June 1, Vaccinations would open more widely, to anyone passing through, she said.
State health officials also have urged tourists to take the Covid-19 tests, though the state no longer requires that.