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Unalaska Youth Aged 12 And Up Await COVID-19 Vaccination

Laura Kraegel

A COVID-19 vaccine will soon be available for Unalaska youth. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently authorized the Pfizer vaccine for children aged 12 to 15 years old. But Iliuliuk Family and Health Services (IFHS) clinic Medical Director Dr. Megan Sarnecki says the clinic doesn't currently have any of the Pfizer vaccine, which has to be stored in extremely cold temperatures.


"Once it's pulled out of those ultra-cold temperatures in Anchorage, we only have five days to give it and that includes all the shipping time," Sarnecki said. "So we just try to be careful and get people organized and on a list before we order it." 


As of Monday, there were more than 40 people on a waiting list at both the Oonalaska Wellness Center and IFHS in Unalaska. 


Sarnecki says she expects another batch of Pfizer vaccine to arrive later this week. 


Getting and administering the vaccine to this newly approved age group won't look much different than it has for vaccinating youth 16 and 17 years old, she said. She says the clinic will continue to get people on lists and order Pfizer vaccines as needed or fit people into clinics when they have it on hand.


For those that are hesitant to have their children vaccinated, Sarnecki said they can call and speak with their doctor. She also said, because Pfizer was the first vaccine approved for emergency use in the U.S., there's a lot of data that shows it's safe and effective. 


"You're really not weighing the risk of vaccine or no vaccine, you're weighing the risk of vaccine versus getting COVID-19," she said. "COVID is not going away. We don't have high enough rates of vaccination in the United States, with or without children, for COVID to completely disappear." 


She added that as people come out of lockdown, vaccines are the safest way to regain a sense of normalcy. 


"We can't live in masks and lockdown forever, and mandates will start to be lifted," Sarnecki said. "There will be COVID infections. There will be severe illness, and there will be some deaths." 


Unalaska City School District Superintendent John Conwell says he hopes having the option to vaccinate more children will also help the school get back into regular routine.


"This is something that would help us get on the path to normalcy again," Conwell said. "Having more students protected against the coronavirus would sure help with having school look like it did prior to the pandemic."


Conwell said the six-foot distancing rule might eventually be eliminated. Until more students have been vaccinated, though, he said the district will still require it and masks worn indoors. 


In a letter sent home to UCSD families, the school administration encouraged parents and family members to reach out to the IFHS clinic or the Oonalaska Wellness Center with questions or to make appointments for their children to receive the vaccine. 


More information is available by calling the Oonalaska Wellness Center at 581-2742 or the IFHS clinic at 581-1202. 


Hailing from Southwest Washington, Maggie moved to Unalaska in 2019. She's dabbled in independent print journalism in Oregon and completed her Master of Arts in English Studies at Western Washington University — where she also taught Rhetoric and Composition courses.
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