Gov. Sean Parnell signed a bill Wednesday that supporters say will give every Alaskan better access to vaccines and ultimately save lives.
By applying the concept of buying in bulk, Senate Bill 169 will allow the state to get vaccines at reduced costs, which in turn gives patients more options to prevent illness. Health officials call this new program a big deal, because with the flu still around, having vaccines readily available could be a matter of life and death.
The bill's sponsor, state Sen. Cathy Giessel (R-Anchorage), says the idea is to provide patients universal access to vaccines whether or not they have insurance.
"This is about access to health care for Alaskans and reducing the cost of health care in Alaska and preventing illness," Giessel said. "Because certainly, taking care of someone who is ill costs a lot more than preventing that illness."
Even during Alaska's summer, the flu and other bugs are still hitting people. Dr. Michael Cooper, manager of the Infectious Disease Program at the state Department of Health and Social Services, says there has been an uptick in cases over the past month. He says people should get vaccinated before it's too late.
"The seasonal flu vaccine expires, usually, at the end of June," Cooper said.
In Cooper's view, that's one reason why having a new program giving out vaccines reduces barriers for both patients and providers.
"The providers that are having to keep separate lots or are worried about paperwork and are thinking, 'Gosh, do I really need to keep providing vaccines -- maybe my patients can get them elsewhere,'" Cooper said.
According to pediatrician Dr. Rosalyn Singleton, that mindset has to change to protect the state from epidemics like measles and whooping cough that have hit other parts of the United States.
"If we had a big outbreak, the state only has vaccine authorized for certain individuals," Singleton said.
With those authorizations going away soon, the hope is more Alaskans and their families will benefit from this new plan.
Giessel says Alaskans should start seeing the effects of the universal vaccine access law starting in January. In the meantime, doctors say the best thing you can do to fight viruses like the flu is to get vaccinated.