Coronavirus vaccines are now available to all Oklahoma residents thanks to Native tribes that have expanded vaccinations beyond tribal citizens.
The state of Oklahoma is currently on Phase 3 of its vaccine distribution plan, meaning that vaccines are not yet available to all residents, but they are accessible to healthcare workers, first responders, residents 65 and older, those with medical conditions, school staff, students 16 and older, people in congregate settings, public health staff, government officials and essential workers.
Other members of the public won’t be eligible for the vaccine under the state’s plan until it reaches Phase 4, but various tribes are helping to grow accessibility by offering vaccines to everyone.
The state’s tribal nations received allotments of the vaccine from the Indian Health Service, and as they demonstrated they were able to administer the shots quickly they continued to receive an influx of doses.
Their progress allowed them to expand efforts beyond their own populations, and CNN reports that the Osage, Choctaw, Citizen Potawatomi and Chickasaw Nations have opened up vaccine appointments to all Oklahoma residents, regardless of whether they are citizens of the tribe, while the Cherokee Nation has opened appointments to anyone residing within its 14-county jurisdiction.
Dr. John Krueger, chief medical officer for the Chickasaw Nation, spoke to CNN about the success of the rollout and credited the tribe’s robust infrastructure for its ability to welcome non-Native members of the community to receive vaccines.
Krueger noted that the Nation has administered more than 30,000 vaccines to date, and it recently dramatically increased its capacity by opening a new facility in the city of Ada which offers vaccines through 16 drive-thru lanes. The tribe also has three other vaccination sites up and running as well as a team that travels to people’s homes.
Tribal Nations are seeking herd immunity from coronavirus, with Krueger explaining that ‘the faster we can get all of us back to essential protection, the better it is for us and the better it is for everyone.’
He said: ‘We are a part of these communities, and they are a part of us.’
Meanwhile, the Choctaw Nation has administered more than 20,000 vaccines, according to Cpt. Clinton Bullock, director of pharmacy for the Choctaw Nation Health Care Center.
He explained that the tribe is capitalising on the resources offered by the Indian Health Service, and added: ‘There are, of course, non-Native members of the community that our tribal citizens come in contact with. Helping to develop this herd immunity not only benefits the tribal members, but the community as a whole.’
The Nations’ speed in administering vaccines comes in tandem with some vaccine hesitancy, with Dr. Ronald Shaw, CEO of the Osage Nation WahZhaZhe Health Center, explaining that demand for the jab fell off after about a month.
The tribe’s health system had initially followed Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines in its vaccine distribution, but when the criteria became an obstacle the vaccines were opened up to more age groups.
Krueger has explained that the Chickasaw Nation tribe is still working to encourage everyone to get the vaccine, but in the meantime they continue to use their resources to vaccinate others around them.
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