A healthcare worker administering the Covid vaccine to a patient..

By mid-January, more than a third of people in the Bering Strait region – including most of the KNOM staff in Nome – had received the first round of the coronavirus vaccine.

In rural Alaska, healthcare workers with vaccines traveled by small planes, snowmachines, boats, and sleds to reach villagers. The hospital’s vaccine dashboard showed that by mid-January 2,748 people had received the first dose of vaccine, and 612 people had received both doses.

Emily Hofstaedter, KNOM news reporter, gets her first dose of the coronavirus vaccine.

Due to differences in the state and tribal vaccination programs, the region’s vaccination numbers are far ahead of the rest of the state. In turn, Alaska has so far vaccinated people faster than most other states.

The Norton Sound region was thankfully spared the worst of the pandemic, unlike the neighboring Yukon-Kuskokwim region where the infection and death rate was much higher.

The vaccine rollout has meant a great deal in rural Alaska, perhaps even more so than in other places. Pandemic restrictions damaged many of the social connections villagers depend on for survival. Many are eager to get back to the community rhythm of hunting and gathering food, dancing, potlucks, and socializing at school and church functions.

Image at top: Savoonga resident Michael Toolie gets a vaccine from Physician Assistant Steve Albrich. KNOM was able to accompany a hospital representative to Savoonga to report on vaccinations. Photo by Sophia DeSalvo, KNOM (2021).