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Keeping Juneau healthy

Along with rows of recipients of the COVID-19 vaccine, Juneau residents Hal Geiger, 66, and Meg Cartwright, 71, sat 6 feet apart in a huge room at Centennial Hall. As they waited the mandatory 15 minutes for any possible allergic reaction, they looked back to the last time they were in a similar setting, getting the vaccine for polio.

For Meg, it was 1962, in her junior high school gym. Indeed, Juneau's convention center feels and looks more like a gymnasium for this first mass vaccination event in Juneau.

Hal recalls the time before the vaccine for polio was developed, when classmates with the disease were required to wear leg braces and crutches for the rest of their lives.

At 13, Meg received the polio vaccine. But not by a shot. "I remember lining up outside and waiting for the sugar cube," she says. "My parents were really excited about it. My dad, who was a doctor, just said over and over, 'This is historical.'"

Vaccines for the community

During the first mass vaccination event January 15-17, 1,201 people, mostly seniors and some health care workers, got their first of the required two doses of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines. Joint organizers Bartlett Regional Hospital, City and Borough of Juneau, and Juneau Public Health say the event was the first of a series in the capital city. Since then, SEARHC and the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska have joined the effort. The goal is getting as many people vaccinated as soon as possible in a safe manner. The Juneau PODs are like several such events across the country.

"I think we're doing well here," says April Rendenzes, Public Health Nurse Team Lead. "We're taking some of the things we learned at the state level and trying to make them easier, like keeping registration to the city website and adding the call line for people who can't get online. All of the entities coming together is making it much smoother here. The flu POD in October 2020 was huge practice for this—we had that same model in place."

Working together

For the first COVID-19 vaccine event, everyone jumped in with signs, supplies, manpower and organization. The event also had a good problem: It drew more volunteers than needed, including retired Bartlett employees. Former Infection Preventionist Jan Beauchamp was thrilled to vaccinate her fellow community members.

"I was so excited to get my vaccine, and I just want to be part of the effort to give everybody an opportunity to get the vaccine," she says. "It feels really good to start working toward immunity and to be part of the community who are doing it."

"I've seen so many of my friends come through. I'm so proud of these people," says volunteer Janet Valentour. "These are the first! And walking away smiling."

Kim Titus, 66, was one of many grateful recipients. "I can't wait to have a little bit of light at the end of the tunnel, even though we'll have our masks on for another while," he says.

Mass vaccination events are not the only places residents can get their COVID-19 vaccine.

"Any provider in town can order vaccine, so our private providers, pharmacies and SEARHC are doing a lot of vaccinating for smaller populations," notes April.

Mass vaccination by the numbers

  • 1,201 people vaccinated.
  • 12 hours over the course of three days.
  • 40+ people helping out.
  • 1.6 vaccines every minute.

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