State health officials recommend COVID boosters, flu shots this fall

A bundle of syringes in a white box
Syringes for the COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic in East Anchorage on Aug. 3, 2021. (Lex Treinen/Alaska Public Media)

State health officials are encouraging Alaskans to get updated COVID boosters and flu shots ahead of flu season.

The new bivalent booster – which increases protection against both the omicron variant and the original coronavirus – has been available for nearly two weeks. In a public health presentation Wednesday, acting state immunization program manager Sarah Aho said approximately 8,000 doses have been given so far.

“That’s not a huge number. We’re hoping for lots more in the coming months,” she said. “And if you compare that to people who’ve received the primary series in Alaska for the COVID vaccine, that’s over 440,000 people.”

The state Department of Health is working with tribal organizations and local providers to get boosters and other medical supplies out to rural communities, including those in Western Alaska impacted by last weekend’s storm. 

“Airports are in good shape, with just some minor problems in a few areas with lighting and such, so supply movement should be unhindered except normal Alaska weather,” said Gene Wiseman, section chief of rural and community health systems for the state’s Division of Public Health.

Health officials said COVID-related hospitalizations continue to go down in Alaska and across the country.

Epidemiologists are using hospital data to measure the severity of outbreaks rather than case numbers, since few at-home COVID test results get reported to the state.

Still, state physician Dr. Lisa Rabinowitz said getting boosted is worthwhile. In June 2022, unvaccinated adults were more than four times more likely to be hospitalized with COVID compared to those who’d had at least one booster.

“That tells us that vaccines continue to protect against severe illness, hospitalization and death,” Rabinowitz said.

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