Alaska Officials Open COVID Vaccinations
to Seafood Workers

A plan announced by Alaska officials this past week seeks to provide COVID vaccines for seafood workers, including nonresidents, who are at least 50 years of age and working as essential frontline workers, but it’s still a work in process, with nothing finalized.

According to Jason Wiard, with the state’s COVID-19 Unified Command, Alaska officials have had a conversation with the state of Washington regarding vaccinations, but nothing has been decided yet. “We have also encouraged our industry partners interested in the vaccine to look into having eligible employees seek vaccination in their home state before coming to work in Alaska,” he said. One option being considered is to have these essential workers get their first shot in their home state and the second on when they arrive for work in Alaska, but no details have been worked out on that either.

In a letter sent to fishing industry representatives, Alaska Commissioner of Health Adam Crum and Ben Stevens chief of staff for Gov. Mike Dunleavy noted that the state to date had not received any additional amounts of vaccine from the federal government.

Industry representatives who met with state officials after learning about the proposal to vaccine qualified resident and nonresident seafood workers noted that just because the state has opened up vaccinations to nonresidents doesn’t mean those vaccines are going to be quickly available. The problem, said one, is the supply of vaccines is currently limited and if a community has a wait list for vacations, it could be quite a while before one’s turn came for the shot, so fishing industry operators also need to engage with communities and work with them to get these people vaccinated before they come to work in Alaska.

Seafood processing workers often work in close quarters and despite efforts to quarantine and pretest them before they go to work, often in rural areas of the state, there have been outbreaks of COVID-19, most recently at Trident Seafoods huge processing facility at Akutan in the Aleutians, as well as two processing facilities at Unalaska.