Alaska lures tourists with its stunning landscapes — and free vaccines

n this May 30, 2018, file photo, is the Grand Princess cruise ship in Gastineau Channel in Juneau, Alaska. The Canadian government has extended a ban on cruise ships through February 2022, which is expected to block trips from visiting Alaska this year. Transport Canada announced the extension of the ban put in place because of the COVID-19 pandemic. (AP Photo/Becky Bohrer, File)

Adventurous tourists travel to Alaska for various delights including the state’s abundant wildlife, sparkling glaciers and dazzling northern lights.

Now officials are offering another attraction: free COVID-19 vaccines.

It’s part of an effort to jump-start a floundering summer tourism industry that’s been devastated by the pandemic’s cruise bans and travel warnings. Officials hope the added incentive of a COVID-19 vaccine will attract visitors.

As of June 1, anyone age 12 and older from anywhere around the world can get a vaccine in Alaska. The shots are readily available at any of the state’s major airports, Gov. Mike Dunleavy announced during a news conference on Friday.

“What we want to do is make sure that our fantastic tourist industry, including the cruise ships, including our hospitality in our ancillary businesses, have an opportunity to get back to where they were,” Dunleavy said

The Alaska Tourism Industry Association reports that in 2019, more than 52,000 Alaskans — 1 in 10 — depended on tourism for their income. That same year, vacationers spent roughly $2.2 billion in the state.

Dunleavy added: “The idea is if we have excess vaccines, why not use them? So what we’re saying to our tourists is … if you come to Alaska, you get a free vaccination if you want one.”

As of Wednesday, 53% of residents had received at least one dose, while 46% were fully vaccinated.

Heidi Hedberg, the director of public health at the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, said airport vaccination clinics will offer a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines to anyone who asks for one.

“We recognize that when individuals come up to Alaska, they may not stay for 21 days or 28 days … but we’re offering that first dose,” Hedberg said.

Should they choose to stay longer, they will also be eligible for a free second dose, she added.

Mayowa Aina of Alaska Public Media in Anchorage contributed to this story.

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