Alaska health workers fight elements to deliver COVID-19 vaccine

The all-female team of a doctor, two nurses and a pharmacist is crisscrossing the Last Frontier by water taxi, sled and plane to make sure everyone gets the vaccine.
7:03 | 01/15/21

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Transcript for Alaska health workers fight elements to deliver COVID-19 vaccine
journey. A group of health care heroes in Alaska are delivering the covid vaccine to one of the most remote parts of the world, plane, sleds, snowmobiles, they'll join us live, first kayna Whitworth has more on their inspiring story. Good morning, kayna. Reporter: Hey, George, good morning. So right now across the state of Alaska health re workers are battling subzero temperatures with just a few hours of daylight each day, they venture into rugged territory, even doing home visits when necessary to vaccinate village elders. They are true health care heroes, practitioners across Alaska flying to remote villages to vaccinate elders against covid-19. And braving deadly conditions to do it. Based in kotzebub, a doctor, two nurses and a pharmacist board a bush plane flying with the vaccine in hand to small villages of 200 people, largely cut off from the rest of the world. If the teams didn't make these trips some of the people would have no way to get the vaccine. Once they land villagers drive out to them and load up in a sled and pulled the rest of the way into the village. In one day this team traveled hundreds of miles vaccinating 65 people. In the past month various teams have made about 30 of these trips, all part of the commitment these health care professionals make to service rural villagers who will not be forgotten. Now, these women are part of a health care team dedicated to servicing 11 villages in northern Alaska and do so year round with a smile on their face and I thought that maybe I had a challenging day at work, I'm going to walk that back after talking to these women. Yeah, it's just incredible. Thanks very much. Let's bring in Dr. Katrine bengaard, pharmacist Dr. Meredith deam and Heather Kenison and Jane austen. We love your story and Dr. Bengaard, let me begin with you. You vivided a 92-year-old woman. Tell us about the challenges you faced to get that vaccination to her. Sure, and -- That means good morning. It was wonderful to offer the vaccine not just to the people that were able to make it into the village clinics but also into homes of elders who are home bound. This particular patient was somebody whose parents survived the 1918 flu and so it was really important for her family that she be vaccinated so that she be given a better chance during this pandemic. The 1918 flu was really devastating to some of the communities up here and it was just wonderful to be able to offer that to her. Wow, just such an incredible story. Meredith, I know you're a tell us about your role on the team and the challenges you guys faced working in these subzero temperatures. Yeah, it's challenging getting the vaccine up here to begin with and then getting it out to the villages brings on a whole new set of challenges and logistical issues and then the plan becomes kind of a matter of time. By the time I dilute the vaccine I'm drawing it up for our nurses to give so then I have six hours once it's unthawed to use it up so, you know, time is of the utmost importance and I am carrying an anaphylaxis kit in case we have reactions that we're ready to be there. The big responsibility and Heather and Jane, we know you're nurses but you administer the vaccine as well. Heather, I understand that you have to hold a vaccine in your arm sometimes like a baby to keep it the right temperature. Yes, when Dr. Bengaard and I went out to the 92-year-old elder, it was packaged by Meredith and I got into the back of a sled behind a snow go and carried it like it was a baby in my arms to get it to the elder and make sure she was able to be vaccinated appropriately. And, Jane, you're visiting such isolated villages there across Alaska. Walk us through what that journey looks like in an average day. Well, this is a three-village day so we got to go from car to commercial airline, air, picked up in a snow go with a sled behind it then on charter air, golden eagle outfitters then we got picked up buy a four-wheeler with a trailer, more snow goes, more sleds and actually more 1/2 gaable in the winter than the summer because you can travel on the tundra and all the water turns to navigable ice and it's just like your cars and subways and buses and that help people get around. It's actually nothing like that at all. You guys win for the record. You definitely beat us on this one. Katrine, you were saying -- tell us what it's meant for your patients to get the vaccine. What's been their reaction to your visits? You know, the biggest reaction we got was that the patients were grateful. You know, grateful we were able to come out to see them and grateful they were getting it so timely and getting it right at the beginning when we have the vaccines. Oftentimes earlier than the lower 48, so it was really a pleasure for all of us to be able to offer that to them. We know you all are somewhat new to Alaska. Meredith, you're from Tennessee. So what has been it been like to the south to just about as far north as you can get? It's been pretty surreal. I moved up here because I knew it would bring on a whole new set of challenges and was interested in that and then you get here and sometimes you feel like you're living in a snow globe. Completely surreal. It's amazing all the modes of transportation and learning about the culture, such an opportunity and experience that I don't think any of us take for What does it mean to be part of an all-female team, James. It is an absolute delight and also committed to actively working in a world where that is not remarkable. I want to mention that the community health aid practitioners who are mostly Feeley and Alaska specific program are the primary care providers and pick us up on the snow goes and get the paperwork dialed in. We could not do it without them. I can see you all nodding your heads. You're such a special team doing such important work. Thank you so much for your work and thanks for joining us this morning. Thank you. Thank you. Take care.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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