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Healthcare Workers Facing Vaccination Deadline

Jane Rogers/National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution
National Museum of American History
Mail cache featuring Balto and Togo from sled dog race. 2014.0116.16.1.

Only about 160 out of nearly 600 SPH employees were unvaccinated when mandate was issued.

Covid-19 cases in the Southern Kenai Peninsula are edging off, as they have been state- and nation- wide. Federal vaccination mandates are credited with lowering the infection rate in many places. At South Peninsula Hospital, administrators have put local guidelines in place to comply with the federal mandate, according to spokesperson Derotha Ferraro.

“Two weeks ago, actually while we were live on the radio, that rolled out. And we have spent the last week or so taking that rule and kind of developing our own internal documents and policies to implement that,” Ferraro said. “So the rule says any health care provider who accepts Medicare, (such as) hospitals, nursing, homes, etc., quite a long list, and there are several entities in Homer and the Southern Peninsula who qualify on the list, and are required to mandate Covid-19 vaccine amongst our staff, travelers, contractors, students, volunteers etc.”

She said the hospital policy affects not just patient-facing employees, but those behind the scenes as well.

“Just under the perspective that we all at one point interact and that we're all part of the overall health care system,” she said.

Ferraro said the vaccination mandate will be enforced starting on the first Monday in December.

“Our team of over 570 now have until Dec. 5 to either get an exemption approved or get the first and only dose of the single dose, or the first of a two dose series because the mandate goes into effect on Dec. 6,” Ferraro said.

She said there were about 160 unvaccinated employees on the date the mandate was rolled out. The mandate has both religious and medical exemptions.

A caller into the Covid Brief, Patrick, shared a common frustration with certain elected officials who insist on promoting anything but good science and public policy.

“My call is regarding the frustration I feel with the lack of straight talk from those in power, particularly. Lorne just said knowledge is power. But some of those in power are giving the wrong knowledge,” he said. “And I’m speaking about the Anchorage Mayor, the (Kenai Peninsula) borough mayor and our local House rep that are all encouraging faulty science and false thinking about alternative treatments.”

Alaska Public Health Nurse Lorne Carroll responded that education is vital.

“What’s lying underneath here is literacy. In regards to literacy Itself, we know that half of Americans have deficits within one or more areas of literacy and literacy is closely tied to health literacy. And that's a bunch of jargon for ‘how can we search out and find good information and assess that it's good, but also use it for improving our health and the health of others?’ But I think Patrick you got it; We've got a long ways to go,” Carroll said. “But what can we do today? I a lot of things that we have in common and that we have in terms of equity are the same before the pandemic as during the pandemic, and that is that all of us Alaskans came up here from somewhere or we were born here, but we have this place that we have in common, you know. We've been through a lot of stuff in the past and I think we'll make it through this too if we stick together, I think those are some of the keys.”

Patrick suggested recalling the days of the Nome Serum Run a hundred years ago, when Alaskans came together to get life-saving medicine from Nenana to the Seward Peninsula during a diphtheria outbreak. It’s remembered each year when the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race follows a portion of the route Leonard Sepalla took between Kaltag and Nome.

“The only thing I have, and I know it’s a little bit storybook like, is the Iditarod is part of our common heritage, and it was all about running a lifesaving serum to Nome. And I don't know if there's any chance for that as a positive PR or a, ‘Hey look 100 years ago we trusted science,’” he said. “Because it's not just this pandemic. I'm worried about the future. What's next, either a variant of Covid or something we haven’t thought of yet.”

The publicity around the 1925 serum run made stars out of lead dogs Togo and especially Balto, who replaced Rin Tin Tin for a time as America’s favorite pooch. He starred in an inoculation campaign against diphtheria which is credited with helping reduce the threat of the disease in the country.