June 20, 2021


Keep Fit & Healthy

Native American health clinics offering vaccine to visitors

2 min read

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — The Indian Health Service announced Monday that it is shifting its vaccine distribution system to target individual hospitals and clinics with high demand for shots and taper supplies to hubs where most eligible patients have received doses.

The U.S. agency is part of a two-pronged national effort to immunize Indigenous communities that also relies on state health agencies. Native Americans have been disproportionately sickened and killed by the pandemic, and are also now at the forefront of federal efforts to deploy vaccine shots in the United States.

Dr. Matthew Clark, a safety and monitoring specialist with the agency’s vaccine task force, says that the new distribution model “is intended to improve efficiency by allowing locations with high demand and sufficient capacity to receive additional doses, and facilities where the majority of eligible individuals have already been vaccinated to receive only the doses they need.”

Additionally, most Indian Health Service health facilities are beginning to offer vaccines to the general population after successfully immunizing vulnerable tribal members, in a push toward so-called herd immunity that still depends on development of a vaccine for children.

The Indian Health Service has administered more than 940,000 vaccine doses across the U.S. and plans to hit the million-dose mark before April.

“As we have been successful in vaccinating the high risk groups, there are a lot of local sites that have been able to expand access to vaccination to include those with close social and economic ties with our tribal communities,” Clark said in a media briefing by telephone. “This is an important part of our effort to achieve community immunity.”

Over a year after the nation’s first reported coronavirus case, more than 80,000 Navajo Nation members have been fully vaccinated on the sprawling reservation that overlaps portions of New Mexico, Arizona and Utah.

Loretta Christensen, chief medical officer for the Indian Health Service’s Navajo Area, said that nearly 50% of the eligible patient population has received a complete course of two vaccination shots in the agency’s Navajo area that includes a portion of Colorado.

She said the goal is to reach 80% of the eligible population with initial vaccine doses in April.

The agency also is stepping up efforts to monitor the trajectory of the virus in many areas with the distribution of rapid home test kits at no cost to users, starting later this week.

The Indian Health Service already has begin submitting COVID-19 positive test samples from the Navajo area to identify potentially dangerous variants of the coronavirus.

Children already are the focus of some vaccination efforts in scattered Native American populations in portions of New Mexico, Colorado, Texas and Utah.

“Many sites have prioritized their 16- and 17-year-olds for the Pfizer vaccine in an attempt to get kids vaccinated and return to school,” said Dr. Julianna Reece, chief medical officer for the Albuquerque Area of the Indian Health Service.

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