Severe winter weather causing major disruptions in swaths of the Lower 48 this week has also delayed shipments of COVID-19 vaccine headed to Alaska, causing some appointments to be canceled, state officials said Thursday.
At least 21 separate vaccine shipments to Alaska have been delayed this week “due to inclement weather,” said Matt Bobo, immunization manager with the state. Officials later clarified that the delay affected about 3,000 vaccine doses, though it was not immediately clear which communities those doses were headed to.
State health officials said the delay was significant enough that some Alaskans would be getting calls from providers saying their vaccine appointments for this week needed to be rescheduled for next week, after more vaccine will arrive.
The winter storms that battered the Lower 48 left millions of people without power, jeopardized drinking water systems and were blamed for the deaths of more than 40 people. States across the country — such as Texas, Alabama, Missouri and Hawaii — have also experienced interruptions to vaccine distribution this week as poor weather contributed to deteriorating road conditions, snarling deliveries and prompting vaccine clinic cancellations.
Kelsey Pistonick, a public health adviser with the Alaska immunization program, said in a Thursday media briefing that the impact could have been much worse if the delay had occurred earlier in the month, when most of Alaska’s vaccine arrives.
Alaska is unique from other states because it’s allocated vaccine on a monthly rather than weekly basis, which means the state is able to order more vaccine at once. Alaska was allocated 59,600 first doses of the vaccine for the month of February.
“It’s obviously very unfortunate that folks are having to reschedule because we have delayed shipments, but this is actually a pretty great week for this to happen to Alaska because it is a slow shipment week for us,” she said.
Bobo said providers had been notified about the delayed shipments and that his team was working with them to make sure all canceled appointments can be rescheduled.
“We’ve been in communications with the White House, the federal government and the CDC to make sure that we’re going to get through the backlog,” he said.