Other Oklahoma-based tribes have also extended vaccinations beyond tribal citizens. The Osage, Choctaw, and Citizen Potawatomi Nations offer vaccines to all members of the public, while the Cherokee Nation has opened appointments for anyone residing within its 14-county jurisdiction.
The state of Oklahoma, meanwhile, is currently in phase 3 of its vaccine distribution plan.
These criteria cover a wide range of people, including healthcare workers, first responders, residents 65 and older, people with health conditions, teachers and school staff, 16-year-old students and plus, people living in communities, public health personnel, government officials and essential workers. . Yet not all residents will be eligible for the state plan until Phase 4.
Tribes want to achieve collective immunity
Oklahoma tribal nations received vaccine allocations of the Indian health service. As these tribes demonstrated that they were capable of receiving gunfire quickly, they received more and more doses, which allowed them to expand their efforts beyond their own. populations.
Dr. John Krueger, Chief Medical Officer of the Chickasaw Nation, credits the tribe’s strong infrastructure for its ability to provide vaccines to non-Indigenous members of the community.
The Chickasaw Nation recently opened a new facility in the city of Ada with 16 drive-thru lines, significantly increasing its capacity. The tribe also has three other vaccination sites as well as a team that visits people, Krueger added.
Now that the members of the priority groups of the Chickasaw Nation have received vaccines, the tribe is able to move on to those who are not part of the tribe.
“We are part of these communities and they are part of us,” Krueger said. “The sooner we can all get back to core protection, the better it is for us and the better it is for everyone. ”
The Chickasaw Nation has administered more than 30,000 vaccines to date, according to Krueger. Approximately 35,000 Chickasaw citizens live under tribal jurisdiction in south-central Oklahoma.
The Choctaw Nation also attributes its new capacity to its success in immunizing early priority groups such as seniors.
It’s not necessarily a question of exceeding supply over demand, says the Cpt. Clinton Bullock, director of pharmacy for the Choctaw Nation Health Care Center. Rather, the tribe is capitalizing on the resources offered by the Indian health service to help protect the rest of the state.
“There are, of course, non-indigenous community members that our tribal citizens come into contact with,” Bullock said. “Helping to develop this herd immunity benefits not only the members of the tribe, but the community as a whole. ”
The Choctaw Nation has administered more than 20,000 vaccines, according to Bullock.
Some tribes have seen demand drop
Part of the reason some tribal nations have been able to open up vaccines to anyone who wants one is because of the reluctance to get vaccinated.
Dr Ronald Shaw, CEO of Osage Nation WahZhaZhe Health Center, said the tribe’s health system initially followed guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in its vaccine distribution. After about a month, the criteria kind of became a barrier, so they quickly opened up vaccines to more age groups. Finally, they offered photos to all non-natives.
Despite the wide invitation, Shaw says demand has remained low, adding that residents of rural Osage County have appeared reluctant to get vaccinated.
“This reluctance meant that we have more vaccines to administer beyond just Native American patients in our area, which has resulted in more vaccines for non-Indians,” Shaw said.
Krueger said that when the Chickasaw Nation opened up vaccinations for a particular group, there was an initial surge in demand followed by an eventual decline.
The tribe continues to struggle with vaccine reluctance among these early priority groups, Krueger said. But in the meantime, they have the resources to vaccinate others around them – and recognize that this will help protect the entire community.
“We currently have a lot of capacity to not only take care of the community, but also (those in the priority groups of the tribe), so that anyone who needs a vaccine can get one,” he said. .
Tribes have often overtaken the states in distribution
Many tribal healthcare providers have moved ahead of the rest of the country in distributing the vaccine – a bright spot in a pandemic that has seen indigenous people disproportionately affected by the virus.
Indigenous people receive their health care from a patchwork system of Indian health service facilities, tribal clinics, and Indian urban health centers, and vaccination efforts have varied from tribe to tribe and nation. state to state.
But as states and counties grappled with disorganized deployments, glitchy enrollment forms and long lines, many tribal nations and clinics were able to quickly vaccinate their populations.
The option of receiving stipends from the Indian Health Service or their state has given tribal health clinics greater independence in distribution, and the autonomy to determine which groups should be given priority has helped tribes protect them. most vulnerable members of their population. Existing robust health systems helped tribes reach their citizens more effectively, while personalized messages helped build confidence in the vaccine.
As of March 15, more than 1.2 million doses of the vaccine had been distributed through the Indian Health Service and more than 760,000 had been administered.