Alaska becomes first U.S. state to make vaccine available to everyone 16 and older

FILE PHOTO: Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy speaks at the Petroleum Club in Anchorage, Alaska, U.S. January 15, 2020. REUTERS/Yereth Rosen/File Photo

By Yereth Rosen

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Reuters) – Alaska has become the first U.S. state to make COVID-19 vaccines available to anyone age 16 or older, eliminating eligibility requirements for people who work or live in the state.

Governor Mike Dunleavy, a Republican, announced the new rules on Tuesday for his state of about 730,000 people. More than one quarter of Alaskans have received at least one vaccine shot, second only to New Mexico, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Certain regions of Alaska are nearing a 90% vaccination rate among elderly people, officials said.

Many states are struggling to meet the vast demand for vaccines. Differing eligibility requirements have created a patchwork system, with certain states still restricting vaccines to adults 65 or older, along with people in high-risk groups.

The COVID-19 vaccines developed by Moderna and Johnson & Johnson are approved only for people age 18 and older, but younger Alaskans can receive the Pfizer vaccine.

Officials hope that making vaccinations widely available will boost the crucial tourism industry ahead of the summer.

“Alaska’s also somewhat of a seasonal state with regard to aspects of the economy,” Dunleavy said at a news conference. “We’re hoping that we can get the cruise ships back there, the tourism industry back here.”

As of Tuesday morning, more than 123 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccines had been distributed in the United States and 93.7 million shots had been administered, according to the CDC.

(Reporting by Yereth Rosen; Writing by Joseph Ax; Editing by Will Dunham)

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