Beginning Tuesday, Jan. 19, everyone in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta aged 16 or older will be eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. The expansion makes the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta the first full region in Alaska, and one of the first areas in the nation, where the vaccine will open to the general population.
The expansion applies to Bethel, where currently the vaccine is only open to essential workers, people ages 50 and older, and people living in congregate shelters. The general population in other communities of the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta became eligible for the vaccine earlier this week on Jan. 11.
The Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation is distributing the vaccine in the region, and encourages every eligible person to receive it. YKHC President and CEO Dan Winkelman said during a virtual town hall that the health corporation was able to expand eligibility to the general population after many people across the region declined the vaccine. YKHC also received more doses than initially expected.
YKHC Vice President of Communications Tiffany Zulkosky said that the high declinations occurred in December, during the first two weeks of the vaccine’s distribution. During that time, one-third of eligible health care workers and Elders aged 65 and older declined vaccination.
“Since then, health care workers and Elders who initially declined have opted to be vaccinated and interest continues to increase,” Zulkosky wrote in an email to KYUK.
YKHC Chief of Staff Dr. Ellen Hodges said that some of these health care workers initially declined vaccination because they had COVID-19 at the time. Or they had recently recovered from COVID-19 and wanted to allow other people to get the vaccine during their period of natural immunity against the virus.
Over 3,660 people in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta have received a COVID-19 vaccine. About a fifth of those have received their second doses.
“In Bethel, YKHC has vaccinated over 1,560 unique individuals, with just over a third having received their second dose. In villages, YKHC has vaccinated over 2,100 unique individuals, with just over 170 of them having received their second dose. Bethel and village-based vaccinations are ongoing, as is the scheduling of appointments,” Zulkosky wrote in an email to KYUK.
Everyone who would like to receive a COVID-19 vaccine is asked to fill out this online form at the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation website: https://www.ykhc.org/covid-19/vaccine/
If you live in a village and are unable to complete the online form, you can contact your local village clinic or tribal office for assistance. If you live in Bethel and need help, call the COVID-19 hotline at 907-543-6949. The hotline is staffed Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Voicemails are returned within three business days.