The economic impact of Alaska’s Delta surge

Across the country, cities are dealing with a wide range of impacts from the pandemic and the surge in COVID cases thanks to the delta variant. 

 

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In states like Alaska, the pandemic has implications in a range of areas, many of which are economic. 

Health experts recently expressed some of their concerns about people opting to not get vaccinated and laid out the ways the economy and various sectors will be impacted. 

Jonathan King, a consulting economist with Halcyon Consulting, touched on the impacts of being unvaccinated and the “costs” that it brings for economies. During his presentation at the 2021 Alaska State of Reform Health Policy Conference, he explained how other countries have dealt with the unvaccinated. 

 

“If you look at countries that have been successful in overcoming vaccine hesitancy and increasing vaccination rates… [it’s because] they started [experiencing the] costs of being unvaccinated.”

He explained that some of these costs include restrictions on travel and restrictions on entry into public spaces. 

“In this country you are largely seeing that role [requiring vaccinations for workers] being played by business. Businesses are saying ‘we cannot afford to have unvaccinated workers.’ If you want to come to work and you want to be in the fold, then you need to be vaccinated.”

For Alaska’s economy, King hopes vaccine requirements will help encourage those who are on the fence about getting vaccinated once they see firsthand what they can and can’t do (going to work, accessing public spaces, etc). 

“You’re going to see, as society starts to decide that being vaccinated is really a good thing, that there’s a transfer of costs over to the unvaccinated, and that [getting vaccinated] is simply going to become more and more accepted.” 

Health officials say this idea of “acceptance” is important when addressing vaccine hesitancy. Dr. Anne Zink, chief medical officer at the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS), used the word “tribalism” to describe how people feel and respond to getting the vaccine. When a group of people choose not to get vaccinated, others who are on the fence may choose to follow suit. 

“People that are unvaccinated feel like they’re being forced to make a decision that they don’t feel comfortable with.”

This pressure has economic implications too. Some people who would be working on a regular basis are opting to stay home and care for themselves and others who are sick with the virus. 

King said:

“[Opting out of the vaccine] has costs not just on the medical spectrum but also with keeping parents out of the workforce.”

Workforce shortages tie in directly with vaccination rates for different regions of the state. During the panel conversation, King pointed out the discrepancy in data among the state’s five areas. 

“I’ve been analyzing state data for each of the five boroughs and Juneau was the only region with significant public health measures. Juneau was the only borough with [COVID] rates that were coming down.”

Passing on vaccines doesn’t just impact the workforce. King points out that it impacts non-COVID patients’ ability to get the care that they need as well, since COVID patients occupy hospital beds that could otherwise be used for patients with other needs.

He said:

“The cost is cancelled surgeries, the well-publicized wear and tear on the medical system, and the increase in people dying from COVID.”