A sign directs people to a mass vaccination clinic at Ketchikan’s Ted Ferry Civic Center (Eric Stone/KRBD)

Hundreds of people in Ketchikan got their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine on Tuesday. Local officials planned the clinic after the regional tribal health care provider, SEARHC, donated 1,500 Moderna doses to the community. KRBD stopped by the clinic to check in with organizers and vaccine recipients.


I’m standing in line with about a half-dozen other people inside Ketchikan’s Ted Ferry Civic Center.

Josh Grootonk is ahead of me in the queue. I ask what it means to have the opportunity to get a COVID-19 vaccine.

“It’s absolutely an opportunity, that’s the key word there,” he says. “It gives us high hopes for getting through this — getting, you know, maybe closer to herd immunity.”

I move into the main area, where people are getting their shots, where I meet Sally Grace, a nurse at Ketchikan Public Health Center.

“Oh, it’s fabulous. It gives me hope,” she says. “Each vaccine is another step in the right direction.”

After folks get their shot, they’re directed to a waiting area, where they sit for 15 minutes to make sure they’re not suffering an allergic reaction. There, I spot Grootonk again and ask how he’s feeling.

“Great, terrific, man,” he says. “I’ve got that feeling of inspiration and relief, knowing that we’re getting vaccinated.”

I ask whether the shot hurt.

“Not at all,” he replies. “I’m actually one of the kind of guys that gets scared of getting needles and shots and vaccines. But all I did was look away, and the guy was wham, bam, done.”

“And you know, I had to ask, ‘Are y’all done?’ while he was putting the Band-Aid on — so yeah, it’s a real piece of cake, easy to do. And painless,” he adds.

JoBeth Shimek, a theology grad student who one day hopes to be a health care chaplain, is also upbeat after her shot.

“Oh, my goodness, I have been so excited about this day for over a year,” she says. “I wish I could be helping today — I used to work with public health. A year ago, I was doing contact investigations and trying to stay up to date and getting the information out to our community. So I have been looking forward to this for a long time.”

Since she’s a former public health nurse, I ask her whether she has a message for people who are skeptical of the vaccine.

“I would say for people who are hesitant if they have concerns about the science, then they should call the local health department, call their health care provider and find out some places they can get some reliable information to help them make an informed choice,” she says. The phone number for Ketchikan Public Health Center is 225-4350.

“Just on a broader scale this getting vaccinated is–  whether it’s for COVID or anything else — vaccination is a gift, and a privilege we can give to ourselves and our entire community so that we can get back to doing a lot of the things that we’ve missed out this last year,” she continues.

For Shimek, that means swing dance classes, traveling and, of course, hugs.

The state’s lead public health nurse for Ketchikan, Theresa Ruzek, says she’s pleased with the response to the community’s first-ever mass COVID-19 vaccination clinic: more than 400 people signed up for 600 available slots.

“We’ve had a really good show rate. It’s been going really well. The flow has been good. We’re practicing social distancing. We have a lot of really wonderful volunteers that are helping us out,” she says.

Ruzek says she’s excited to play her part in getting the vaccine out into the community.

About 400 appointments are available for another free vaccine clinic at the Ted Ferry Civic Center Wednesday, March 17, with availability from about 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Local officials say they’ll take walk-ins, as well. There’s another clinic scheduled for Saturday, March 27 at the Saxman Community Center. Everyone 18 and older is eligible.

For details, and to sign up for an appointment, visit anchoragecovidvaccine.org or covidvax.alaska.gov, or call 646-3322.