The way the state counts COVID-19 vaccinations is changing to be more accurate, but it means the percentage of vaccinated people reported in Homer will go down sharply.
Currently, the state reports that 79 percent of people in Homer have received at least one vaccine. But starting Wednesday, that number will go down to 61 percent. That’s because the state is changing its population data to include the surrounding area of Fritz Creek.
The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services said in an announcement Monday that it believes the vaccination rate in Homer is inflated because people in Fritz Creek who are being vaccinated are reporting their mailing addresses, not their physical addresses. Many people in Fritz Creek keep PO boxes in the city of Homer.
One other community, Kodiak, was affected by a similar miscalculation. State data showed the number of Kodiak City residents with at least one dose at 116 percent. Now, the state will include the other road-system communities on Kodiak Island, such as Chiniak, Kodiak Station, Mill Bay and Womens Bay. After the adjustment, the Kodiak road system rate will go down to 55 percent, which the state says is a more accurate reflection.
The state’s data on vaccine doses by geographic area shows Homer at 79.3 percent of residents with at least one dose. Fritz Creek CDP, which is counted separately right now, is reported at 3.3 percent.
Homer Mayor Ken Castner says the change isn’t too surprising—that 79 percent number didn’t sound right to him.
“I said to the public at large, and I say this all the time because as the mayor I have the bully pulpit, ‘Look, COVID is not done with us,’” he said. “We have a real sense of normalcy here in Homer and here in Alaska generally, but in other parts of the world, it’s as bad as it’s ever been, and we need to remember that the pathogen is still out there, in a new, disguised form as variants we haven’t seen before.”
Though the new number will be much lower, he says it won’t change how Homer is approaching the virus. Though the southern Kenai Peninsula has escaped the more serious effects of the pandemic, Castner is still encouraging everyone to get the vaccine and to remain vigilant.
“We recognize that it is similar kind of statistics for mask resistance, you know, ‘I’m not going to wear a mask, and I’m not going to be vaccinated, either,'” he said. “The anti-maskers and the anti-vaxxers are probably the same population. But I think that a lot of people, no matter where they were sitting on that fence, were waiting to see if there was going to be any kind of effect from the vaccine, where all of a sudden, two months later, people started getting sick because of a reaction to the vaccine or something. I’m not exactly sure. But as time goes by, and as people who were at risk are nice and healthy and rosy-cheeked, I think that people are starting to see that the vaccine actually works, that there are no harmful effects from it, and hopefully that number of people who are resistant to having a needle put in their arm will shrink.”
On the whole Kenai Peninsula, about 43 percent of residents have had at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Even after the change, Homer will still be far and away the leader at 61 percent of residents with at least one shot. Seward is the second highest, with 46.4 percent, followed by Anchor Point, with 38.7, then Kenai/Nikiski, Soldotna, and Sterling.
More information about current vaccination rates and vaccine availability is on covid19.alaska.gov.
Reach Elizabeth Earl at [email protected]