Native American tribes receive COVID-19 vaccines, aim to ease hesitation

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When the COVID-19 vaccines arrived at the Bay Area Indian Health Center in California’s Santa Clara Valley, Miriam Mosqueda of the Chichimeca Guamare tribe hardly took one. She was afraid.

But the 26-year-old thought of her immunocompromised grandparents, whom she had not seen since March.

She thought about never sipping her grandmother’s traditional vanilla atole again while she told him stories, or never hearing her grandfather’s laughter again as he insisted that she picks lemons from her tree.

His culture revere elders and his grandparents helped raise him. “They are like our third and fourth parents,” she says.

“I was like, I have to get the shot. If that means I can protect them too… and see them safely, then I will, ”she said. “I cannot fail to take this opportunity to protect our community.

Ahead of the new year, Mosqueda, the centre’s youth professional development advisor, intervened 30 minutes before the last set of the first dose was given to staff at the center.

The center is one of 340 tribal health programs or urban Indian organizations nationwide to receive vaccine allocations from the Indian Federal Health Service. Tribal nations had the choice of receiving vaccines from IHS or their states.

Navajo women are the “sacred” guardians of the cultural flame: They are also particularly vulnerable to COVID-19.

The IHS has distributed 290,900 doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines in its 12 geographies, and more than 74,000 initial doses have been administered, according to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Tribal health workers and indigenous residents of long-term care facilities began to be vaccinated last month as part of phase 1 of the deployment of the coronavirus vaccine in the country.

COVID-19 has disproportionately affected Indigenous communities, in part because of long-standing social inequalities that have placed Native Americans and Alaska Natives at a higher risk of contracting the virus.

A CDC study found that among 23 states with race data, Native Americans and Alaska Natives were 3.5 times more likely to be diagnosed with coronavirus than whites and four times more likely to be hospitalized.

“This has been devastating for many in our community,” said Sonya Tetnowski, CEO of the Indian Health Center in Santa Clara Valley. The state has one of the largest populations of American Indians, with more than 720,000, and 109 federally recognized tribes.

“Because we are serving a population that is already facing significant day-to-day challenges, the addition of the coronavirus… added to the stress and pressure of this community,” she said. Many patients at the center, which also serves Hispanic and migrant workers, suffer from diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease, making them vulnerable to the virus.

As the virus hits their communities hard, tribal leaders grapple with the challenge of helping members feel comfortable getting vaccinated and understand its safety for most people. The injustices against tribal communities have sowed doubt among many.

“Bring all the facts to the table”

Health centers are central to immunizing Indian communities, and elders and respected tribal leaders within the groups are leveraging their influence to help spread the message.

People of color, including Indigenous peoples, are more likely to rely on trusted voices within their own communities for pandemic and vaccine information, Northeastern University study finds who tracked online behavior suggests.

“It has helped tremendously in the Indian country for people to have a transparent perspective,” said Virginia Hedrick, executive director of the California Consortium for Urban Indian Health. The group broadcasts live question-and-answer sessions on Facebook every two weeks.

“Beware of the government”: Hard hit by COVID-19, some tribal members in Montana are reluctant to get vaccinated

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“It’s about transparency. It’s about putting all the facts on the table,” said Hedrick, a member of the Yurok tribe who grew up in the tribe’s rural reservation. She said connecting CCUIH vaccine messages to Native American values, such as community, was essential.

“We don’t know the ability of this vaccine to prevent transmission. What we do know is that it will save lives. And we know as Indigenous people that value resonates with us – that we really need to answer our prayers halfway, ”she said. “So when we pray for health, well-being, and a long life, we have to do the things that get us there.

CCUIH is working with another agency to create digital and print educational leaflets on vaccines with relevant images and slogans.

“When they see images that don’t resonate with them, when they see slogans that aren’t important to them, they put the material aside,” she said. “‘It doesn’t matter to me. It doesn’t include what we do as a family.’ So this is a total missed opportunity. “

In southeast Minnesota, the Indian community of Prairie Island on the Mississippi River quickly accepted vaccines from community elders.

In mid-December, the tribe hosted a Zoom meeting for community members with elders, tribal council members, and the Prairie Island Health Center’s senior doctor to answer questions and talk about vaccines.

“The majority of tribal elders accepted the vaccine. They really feel responsible for protecting their community, ”said Katie Halsne, director of clinical operations for Neopath Health, which runs the Prairie Island clinic.

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The first round of vaccines was distributed to health workers in the clinic and long-term care facility, as well as residents and first responders, Halsne said, followed by around 80 seniors and 200 members considered. as high risk.

Focusing on protecting the elderly has been essential in helping communities understand the importance of vaccines. “We have a deep respect for our elders. These are our encyclopedias. These are our libraries. They cannot be replaced,” Hedrick said.

Tetnowski said she and other IHC executives posted on their personal social media accounts about vaccines.

“A lot of community members who were a bit on the fence… now know people who received it,” she said, “who were comfortable with the way the process went. “.

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Some of the first COVID-19 vaccines in Montana

Some of the first COVID-19 vaccines in Montana

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I can say I’m alive, and I’m fine ‘

In Sioux Falls, South Dakota, a team of mental health therapists helps guide the Flandreau Santee tribe through the stress of the pandemic, discussing vaccines with each patient. Doctors in other clinics make a point of publicly taking a vaccine to model its safety.

Family doctor Courtney Keith said she wanted to be one of the first to receive the vaccine not only because she is a health worker who treats patients, but to show the tribal community that vaccines are sure.

“I work with a clinic that has had a history of drug abuse”, she said after receiving her first dose in December. “The reason I want to be one of the first (to get the vaccine) is to show that I have confidence, and so six weeks later when people think and say, ‘Should I do this? I can say that I am alive and well. “

‘A new chapter’: Flandreau Santee Sioux distributes the first COVID-19 vaccines

At the Prairie Island clinic in Minnesota, Halsne said staff distributed vaccines to 140 people on Wednesday. Of the 224 people they offered vaccines, 27% refused. Word of mouth brings people in, she says.

Health care workers at Blackfeet Nation in Montana received their first doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine before the Christmas holidays. The Nation peaked in cases in mid-October with around 400 diagnoses.

In preparation for vaccine distribution last week, the tribe’s COVID-19 incident command shared an ad featuring a shaggy “ground dog” puppet interviewing a nurse practitioner about vaccines.

In the video, the “Rez Dog Rep” asks the nurse questions ranging from the cost of the vaccines to whether he will need to continue wearing a mask after being immunized to who gets it first and potential side effects.

“Indians love humor,” said the tribe’s public information official, James McNeely. “The idea of ​​PSA is to help calm people’s minds, to give them a sense of comfort and education about the vaccine.”

Regular COVID-19[feminineà travers « le prisme de la population »

Andrea Klimo, qui dirige l’équipe de distribution et d’allocation du groupe de travail sur les vaccins IHS COVID-19, a déclaré que les allocations étaient calculées en fonction de la population et des capacités de stockage.

“Chaque zone géographique a ses propres considérations”, a déclaré Klimo. “Ils ont une lentille de population différente, ils ont parfois des contraintes géographiques différentes et certains d’entre eux ont des capacités différentes de stockage des vaccins à différentes températures.”

Klimo a déclaré que l’IHS s’appuie sur les plus grands centres de santé tribaux pour distribuer les vaccins aux communautés tribales rurales environnantes.

“Certaines régions ont un modèle hub-and-spoke vraiment robuste”, a-t-elle déclaré. “Nous envoyons à nos hubs, puis ils distribuent dans les endroits isolés les plus ruraux.”

L’une de ces tribus aux besoins variés utilisant ce modèle est la nation Navajo, l’une des plus grandes du pays avec environ 172 000 habitants vivant sur des terres s’étendant sur plus de 27 000 miles carrés dans trois États.

L’année dernière, la tribu avait le taux d’infection par habitant le plus élevé, malgré une préparation agressive un mois avant son premier cas confirmé.

Le groupe de travail COVID-19 de la tribu a appliqué des politiques et des protocoles, réduisant considérablement le nombre de cas, selon les données du ministère de la Santé de Navajo.

Au milieu d’une augmentation à l’échelle nationale, les autorités tribales se sont efforcées de garder un couvercle sur les cas tout en donnant la priorité à la distribution de vaccins aux centres de santé avec un stockage approprié.

The Kayenta Health Center in Arizona, a rural hospital serving residents of the Navajo Nation, has a smaller freezer than other health centers that serve the tribe. Officials have been working to get the vaccine to hospitals with more space and proper equipment to store the doses, as the Pfizer vaccine requires such cold temperatures.

“We place it strategically in these freezers so that we can then take this vaccine to other health centers and hospitals”, says Loretta Christensen, Chief Medical Officer of the Indian Health Service for the Navajo Region.

Following: Navajo Nation receives first shipment of COVID-19 vaccine

The Santa Clara Valley is home to a diverse and robust population due to the Indian Relocation Act of 1956 which forced natives to leave reservations and assimilate into urban areas. The intertribal makeup makes health centers such as IHC and other centers an integral part in ensuring that members of different communities get immunized when vaccines become available to the general public.

The day after Mosqueda’s vaccination, she was finally able to visit her grandparents.

“I might be worried about having side effects after the vaccine, or I might have a bigger view,” she said. “If I get chills for the next two or three days but in the long run my community as a whole will be safer, then I’m okay with that.”

Contributing: Danielle Ferguson, Argus leader from Sioux Falls (South Dakota), and Chelsea Curtis, The Arizona Republic

Join Nada Hassanein at [email protected] or on Twitter @nhassanein_.



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