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Native tribes are now offering the COVID-19 vaccine to all Oklahoma residents

"The goal is to vaccinate as many people as possible, to begin to reach the herd immunity that is needed to protect the general public against the COVID-19 virus."

Native tribes are now offering the COVID-19 vaccine to all Oklahoma residents
Cover Image Source: Getty Images/ A saying reading For the love of Native People on Dr. Sarah Hills arm on December 21, 2020, in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Karen Ducey).

Vaccinations in Oklahoma are now open to everyone in the state thanks to several Native tribes that have expanded their vaccination eligibility to the general public. According to CNN, the Chickasaw, Osage, Choctaw, and Citizen Potawatomi Nations have opened up COVID-19 vaccine appointments to all Oklahoma residents, regardless of whether they are citizens of the tribe. Meanwhile, Cherokee Nation appointments are open to Native and non-Native Oklahomans who live within the tribe's 14-county jurisdiction. "The goal is to vaccinate as many people as possible, to begin to reach the herd immunity that is needed to protect the general public against the COVID-19 virus," Todd Hallmark, executive officer of health at Choctaw Nation, said in a statement, reports ABC News.




The state of Oklahoma is currently on Phase 3 of its vaccine distribution plan. This phase covers a wide swath of people, including healthcare workers, first responders, those with medical conditions, residents 65 and older, teachers, school staff, students 16 and older, people in congregate settings, public health staff, government officials, and essential workers. And yet, all Oklahoma residents won't be eligible for the vaccine under the state's plan until Phase 4. According to data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American Indians have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic with them being 1.7 times more likely to contract COVID-19 than White Americans and 3.7 times more likely to be hospitalized with it. They were reportedly also 2.4 times more likely to die from the virus.




Tribal nations in Oklahoma received allotments of the vaccine through the Indian Health Service. When the tribes demonstrated the ability to get shots into arms quickly, they received more and more doses, permitting them to expand their efforts beyond their own populations. Dr. John Krueger, chief medical officer for the Chickasaw Nation, credits the tribes' robust infrastructure for their ability to expand vaccination eligibility to non-Native Oklahoma residents.




The Chickasaw Nation recently dramatically increasing its capacity by opening a new facility in the city of Ada with 16 drive-thru lines. The tribe also has three other vaccination sites and a team that travels to people's homes, Krueger explained. Since those in the Chickasaw Nation's priority groups have already been offered vaccines, the tribe is now able to move on to those outside the tribe. "We are a part of these communities, and they are a part of us," Krueger said. "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. We have plenty of capacity right now to not only take care of the community but also take care of (those in the tribe's priority groups), so anybody that that needs a vaccine can get one."




According to Krueger, so far, the Chickasaw Nation has administered over 30,000 vaccines. About 35,000 Chickasaw citizens reside within the tribe's jurisdiction in south-central Oklahoma. The Choctaw Nation also attributes their newfound capacity to their success in vaccinating early priority groups. "There are, of course, non-Native members of the community that our tribal citizens come in contact with," explained Cpt. Clinton Bullock, director of pharmacy for the Choctaw Nation Health Care Center. "Helping to develop this herd immunity not only benefits the tribal members but the community as a whole."




Dr. Ronald Shaw, CEO of the Osage Nation WahZhaZhe Health Center, revealed that while the tribe's health system initially followed CDC guidelines in its vaccine distribution, it became somewhat of an obstacle after about a month. They then quickly opened up vaccines to more age groups and now, all non-Native people. However, demand has remained low despite the open invitation, Shaw revealed. People in rural parts of Osage County have reportedly seemed reluctant to get vaccinated. "That hesitancy meant that we have more vaccine to give beyond just the Native American patients in our area, so that's translated to more vaccines for non-Indians," Shaw said.

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