The Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation is encouraging parents across the region to sign their 12-to-15-year-olds up for a COVID-19 vaccine. YKHC began vaccinating this age group in Bethel on May 13, and will begin sending vaccines to villages the week of May 17.
YKHC President and CEO Dan Winkleman said that his 15-year-old daughter Katherine got her first COVID-19 vaccine at 9 a.m. on May 13, the first day they became available to this age group. During a virtual town hall that evening to answer questions about the vaccine, he called it a “a great, great day.” He also said that his daughter didn’t have any side effects.
Only the two-dose Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine is authorized for 12-to-15 year olds. Chief of Staff Dr. Ellen Hodges said that YKHC has enough vaccine to cover everyone in the region. Registering for the vaccine on YKHC’s website will help the health corporation distribute the proper number of doses to each village, because the Pfizer vaccine has to be stored at ultra-cold temperatures.
“Once it’s thawed we have to use it in about five days, so we have to be very careful about how many vaccines we pull out of our deep freeze to ship out to villages,” Hodges said.
Health aides will then inject the vaccines.
“If the village does not have a health aide, we'll be supplying a team out there to do it. And some of our larger villages, we're going to come out as a team," Hodges said. "And it'll be obvious. We're going to make announcements on Facebook. We're going to make announcements on VHF, if that's available and used in that village. And we're going to call ahead to every single individual who has signed up on the list to let them know the date and time that we're going to be there.”
YKHC is encouraging parents with children ages 12 and older to sign them up for the vaccine to protect them against the COVID-19 virus, and to prevent the virus from spreading in their communities.
Cases are the lowest they’ve been since the summer of 2020. As of May 13, YKHC reported 25 active cases in the region, spread across at least 10 villages. Most of those cases are in children younger than age 15 who have not yet been vaccinated.
“Kids represent about 71% of our new cases. This is in contrast to prior to vaccinations, when kids represented about a third of our new cases. The rest of the cases are, generally speaking, unvaccinated adults,” Hodges said.
Hodges said that many of the region’s active COVID-19 cases can be linked to travel. As vaccinations have increased, community transmission has greatly declined. YKHC said that it intends to support full-time, in-person schooling in the fall, and vaccinating everyone age 12 and older is key to doing that safely.
YKHC encourages everyone age 12 and up to sign up for the vaccine either on YKHC’s website or by calling YKHC toll-free at 1-800-478-6599.