Alaska opens vaccines to residents 16 and up, the first state to drop nearly all eligibility requirements

Alaska, one of the states leading the US in vaccinations, makes the Covid-19 vaccine available to any resident ages 16 and up. By Scottie Andrew, CNN

(CNN) -- Alaska, one of the states leading the US in vaccinations, has made the Covid-19 vaccine available to any resident ages 16 and up.

It's the first state in the US to remove nearly every eligibility requirement for the Covid-19 vaccine -- a milestone possible, the state's chief medical officer said, because of the state's success in vaccinating vulnerable Alaskans.

"Soon this virus will be a preventable disease, if people choose to get vaccinated," said Dr. Anne Zink of Alaska's Department of Health and Social Services in a Tuesday news conference. "This is our shot to end the pandemic."

Starting this week, Alaskans ages 16 and up can make an appointment to receive the Pfizer vaccine. The Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are available to residents 18 years and older.

Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy, who tested positive for Covid-19 last month, said in a statement that the milestone "should come as no surprise" given the cooperation of state residents and an enviably smooth vaccine rollout.

How Alaska is getting vaccinations right

Alaska has consistently ranked among the top states in percentage of residents vaccinated, according to CNN's Covid-19 vaccine tracker. About 41 vaccine doses have been administered for every 100 residents, and over 16% of the state's population has been fully vaccinated.

The state's robust public health system -- and experience in distributing vaccines to the far reaches of the massive state -- had equipped it for a successful vaccine rollout, Zink told CNN last week. And the state's 229 sovereign tribes received their own vaccine allocations, which relieved some of the pressure off the state to provide for all 730,000-plus residents.

Even before Tuesday's announcement, Alaska's vaccine eligibility had already expanded to include essential workers, residents of multigenerational housing and young people who accompanied seniors to their vaccination appointment, a strategy that Zink and officials from the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium said addressed the disproportionate death rates among low-income residents and Alaska Natives.

The state currently has 430,685 doses of the Covid-19 vaccine -- not enough to vaccinate the entire state within a few weeks.

"We know we don't have enough vaccine in the state of Alaska to do everyone tonight," Zink said. "But even if you're thinking about it, let (the state's Covid-19 helpline) know, and they can help connect you to an appointment if appointments become filled quickly as more vaccine comes into the state."

Appointments for vaccines will likely fill up quickly, Zink said in the news conference, but more will become available as soon as the state gets its monthly vaccine allotment.

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