Tribal health providers show the way to vaccine acceptance

Feb 12, 2021 12:37 PM ET

iCrowdNewswire   Feb 12, 2021  7:37 AM ET

In the US, Covid-19 had hit native people harder than White people with higher rates of infection, hospitalization and death. However, when it came to vaccine administration, tribal health providers were seen to be ahead of counties and states in many instances.

While long lines, canceled appointments, glitchy websites had become a part of the Covid-19 vaccine rollout in the US, many tribal nations and health clinics had used vaccine allotments efficiently and some were even offering shots to Native people as young as 16.

vaccine acceptance

We had some real crushing challenges in Indian Country, CNN quoted chief executive officer of the National Indian Health Board, Stacy Bohlen, CNN as saying. Boylen added they had a perfect storm for a pandemic like this to really knock them down, but they were also very, very resilient people.

It may be noted that with 574 federally recognized tribes, it was difficult to broadly characterize how the vaccine rollout would happen across Indian Country. Native people depended on a patchwork system of Indian Health Service facilities, tribally-operated clinics and urban Indian health centers, and vaccination efforts had differed from state to state and tribe to tribe.

However, there were lessons for communities struggling to vaccinate their populations efficiently in the successes of some tribal health providers.

Given the federal government’s history of medical abuses against Native people, doubts about the vaccine among the public ran high from the outset. 

A recent survey of 1,435 American Indians and Alaska Natives from the Urban Indian Health Institute showed that 75% of participants were willing to get a Covid-19 vaccine, largely out of a sense of responsibility towards their communities and preservation of their cultures. The key to gaining vaccine acceptance among the Native people was culturally relevant messaging according to Powdersville.

According to the Cherokee Nation the strategy had worked for them.

The Cherokee language could be spoken fluently by around 2,000 people. The Cherokee Nation had administered over 17,000 vaccines as of February 8, the tribe said. With around 141,000 Cherokee Nation citizens living within the bounds of the tribe’s reservation in northeastern Oklahoma, it suggested an impressive pace so far.

What worked to build confidence in the vaccine was the decision to put fluent Cherokee speakers at the front of the line, according to Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr, CNN reported.

Cherokee speakers were among the first groups eligible for the vaccine, a move aimed at saving the language from the existential threat of Covid-19. The pandemic had taken the lives of 120 Cherokee speakers. 

Cherokee speakers, the most revered and treasured of its citizens were among the first groups eligible for the vaccine, as part of the tribe’s effort to save its language from the existential threat of Covid-19. The move sent out a message to those who nursed reservations against the vaccine that it believed the vaccine was safe.

That worked to create a sense of optimism among the Cherokee people also boosted the confidence other Cherokees who saw the Cherokee elders, in many cases who were fluent speakers, get the vaccines and celebrating it, Chuck Hoskin Jr told CNN.

According to Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez, people were hesitant to get the vaccine early on, so he got the shot on camera to help build confidence in it, CNN reported. The tribe had also been  answering questions Navajo people had posed, over the radio as also in twice weekly town halls, at times with experts like Dr. Anthony Fauci in attendance.

Further, the key to the tribe’s confidence-building efforts were Navajo doctors and health care professionals, who were able to speak to citizens in their own language and alleviate any concerns about its safety.

Utilizing their way of life and teaching helped the Navajo people feel it was okay to take the shots, Nez said CNN reported.