Alaska health officials seek to boost COVID-19 vaccine rates

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Alaska health officials are seeking to boost plateauing vaccination numbers as COVID-19 cases climb in the state.

The week of July 4 marked a month of week-over-week increases in infections in Alaska, according to the health department. That was the most recent weekly update available.

State health officials say vaccines are the best defense against the spread of COVID-19.

“The vaccine effectiveness is exceptionally high. But it’s not perfect,” said Dr. Joe McLaughlin, the state epidemiologist.

A new report from the department shows that between Feb. 1 and June 30, there were 656 cases of COVID-19 in residents who were fully vaccinated, which included 17 people who were hospitalized and two who died, Alaska Public Media reported.

The report said 38% had no symptoms and described the two people who died as having “substantial” pre-existing conditions.

The cases represent about 4% of the 15,562 COVID-19 infections reported in Alaska during that time.

Between February and June, 391 hospitalizations and 58 deaths were reported in people who were not fully vaccinated, according to the report. The health department did not provide further details on those cases.

Those who were fully vaccinated but still got COVID-19 represent 0.2% of the roughly 300,000 Alaskans who were fully vaccinated as of June 30.

Jennifer Meyer, an assistant professor of health science at the University of Alaska Anchorage, said the way in which such cases are announced on social media or elsewhere could create an illusion “that somehow these breakthrough cases are common, when they’re not,” she said.

Recently, about 325 residents have been getting vaccinated each day, state officials say, compared with as many as 10,000 early in the vaccination campaign. The latest figures from the health department show that about 52% of Alaska residents 12 or older are fully vaccinated.

McLaughlin said vaccination progress has “really plateaued.” Officials would like to see higher vaccination numbers, particularly amid concerns nationwide about the highly contagious delta variant.

“That’s the big goal that we have. And in terms of how do we focus the messaging in such a way that maximizes the likelihood that people will get vaccinated? It’s a very tricky question,” he said. “I don’t have a good answer for how to do that — I don’t think anybody does.”