March 9 (UPI) -- Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy announced Tuesday that the state was shedding eligibility requirements for the COVID-19 vaccine, making it available to everyone in the state above the age of 16.
The move makes Alaska the first state to broadly offer the vaccine to its citizens, the Republican governor said, as all those 16 years of age or older will be able to receive the Pfizer vaccine while those over 18 can get the vaccines produced by Johnson & Johnson and Moderna.
"This is historic step is yet another nationwide first for Alaska, but it should come as no surprise," he said in a statement. "I couldn't be prouder of Alaska's response. From being the first state to offer widespread testing, to maintaining one of the lowest mortality rates in the country, to rolling out vaccinations to every willing Alaskan, we got here by working together."
Alaska, with a population of nearly 730,000 people, has suffered 57,304 infections of the virus, resulting in 301 deaths, which is considerably better than the rest of the United States, which is the sickest country to the pandemic with more than 29 million cases and 2.6 million deaths, according to a live tracker of the virus by Johns Hopkins University.
The state has also been experiencing a steep decline in cases from a high of nearly 900 infections in a 24-hour period in early December to 91 reported on Tuesday, according to data from the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services.
The state has also fully vaccinated 119,631 Alaskans, with an additional 171,749 who have received the first of the required two shots, according to Alaska's vaccine monitoring dashboard.
Data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows Alaska has administered the most amount of total dosages per 100,000 people at 41,376 followed by New Mexico at 40,014.
"We are headed toward being also the first state that will have herd immunity amongst all the other states," Dunleavy said during a press briefing on Tuesday. "Why is this important? Because we want to get our economy back up and running, we want to get our society back up and running, we want to put this virus behind us as far as possible as soon as possible."
The vaccines give the state the ability to recover from the pandemic faster than the rest of the country, he said, urging those who wish to be inoculated to schedule an appointment to do so.
"I would ask that you give some due consideration," he said to those reluctant to be vaccinated. "For those who don't, can't or don't want to, again, I respect that and I think we'll get enough Alaskans that want to be apart of this process that we're going to put this behind us."
Dr. Anne Zink, the state's chief medical officer, said the announcement feels like a giant milestone.
"Soon, this virus will be a preventable disease if people choose to get vaccinated," she said.