Vaccines arrive in Indian country, but are greeted with hesitation by some members of the tribe

As COVID-19 disproportionately affects natives across the state and country, Lynn John, a member of the Duck Valley Shoshone Paiute tribe, knew she had to act quickly when only 100 doses of the Moderna vaccine reached the center. tribal health.

She likened the small act of receiving the vaccine to the culturally significant buffalo, which stands side by side in the midst of an attack or threat while protecting the young and old in the herd behind them.

“As someone who has now received a vaccine, I consider myself one of those buffaloes who stand side by side with other people who have received the vaccine, protecting those who cannot or choose not to. do it, “John, 44, said in an interview with The Independent of Nevada.

Lynn John, of the Duck Valley Shoshone Paiute tribe, received the Moderna vaccine in early January. Photo courtesy of Lynn John.

A school administrator, John noted that the reason she was able to receive the vaccine as early as Jan.4 was that many other tribal members in the priority levels had turned it down, making way for essential workers like her. She is scheduled to receive the second dose on February 2.

She said she felt suspicious at first, but found solace in the evidence supporting the vaccine’s safety and effectiveness.

“I chose to get the vaccine, first, because I believe in science,” John said.

As of Wednesday, 171 cases of COVID-19 were recorded in the Duck Valley reserve, home to about 1,700 tribal members, with no deaths or ongoing hospitalization. The tribe administered vaccines to 125 people, 10 of whom received the second and final dose.

The tribe declared a state of emergency on March 13 and implemented a stay-at-home order on March 27 that includes a 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew. The tribe has also banned social gatherings and closed recreational fishing, camping and hunting areas to non-residents. The order has not been canceled since.

Duck Valley Reservation entrance sign along Nevada State Route 225 near Mountain City Nevada. (Famartin / Creative Commons)

Statewide, Nevada Indian Commission Executive Director Stacey Montooth said in an email to The Nevada Independent, the agency had tracked 281 active cases and 13 deaths as of Jan. 15 – a record spike in cases for the Indian nation of the state. Indigenous people make up 1.7 percent of the state’s population.

However, she also clarified that data for indigenous communities is rarely complete, as some tribal nations prefer not to report data and tracking indigenous people living in urban areas is difficult, so the numbers could be higher.

In the United States, COVID-19 has infected the Indigenous population at three and a half times the rate for whites and claimed the lives of Indigenous people at nearly double the rate for whites.

Infection and death rates are compounded by disproportionate rates of chronic diseases, such as diabetes, in the population. Native Americans and Alaska Natives are nearly three times more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes than whites and died from the disease at more than twice the rate of whites in 2017.

Indian Country mourns community members

John’s aunt, Velda Lowery, a registered member of the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony, was among the first tribal members in northern Nevada to die of complications from COVID-19 in April. She was 58 years old.

The loss affected John, his family and members of the community at the start of the pandemic, but it didn’t end with Lowery. Nevada’s 27 tribal nations are interconnected across the vast state, and the death of a tribal member in Yerington is mourned by tribal members all the way to Owyhee, nearly 400 miles away.

John appointed Dennis Smart of Fort McDermitt, a guardian of language and culture; Monty Williams of Fallon, a Navy veteran and advocate for a life without alcohol and drugs; and Elliott Aguilar of Yerington, a spiritual leader and Indian child welfare law scholar for the Walker River Paiute tribe. All of them died of complications from COVID-19.

“I knew these people,” John said. “I was educated by them. I was influenced by them. I know their children, I know their grandchildren. And that hurts. It hurts. And I’m frankly shocked when people tell me that they don’t know anyone who’s gotten sick, or that they don’t know anyone who’s passed away. Because right now, I would probably take both of my hands to count the number of people I know personally who have lost their lives due to the coronavirus. ”

For indigenous communities, the priority is to protect tribal elders in order to preserve their cultures, history and languages.

This is especially important for tribal members who still remember a time when the US federal government banned their languages, religions and spirituality as well as traditional ceremonies and dances.

Fortunately, John was able to receive the Moderna vaccine alongside both of his parents. His mother, 64, is one of the few fluent Paiute speakers of her generation and his father, 66, is a former tribal chief. Both of her parents have underlying health issues.

Lynn John’s parents, Yolanda and Lindsey Manning, received the Moderna vaccine on the same day as their daughter. Photo courtesy of Lynn John.

“This is extremely important because without these people to keep our language active, and also to promote the languages ​​they use, we lose so much with each death of an elder… My father is the former president of our tribe. So even though he is not fluent, what he does have is a tremendous wealth of historical knowledge about our tribe, ”she said.

Vaccine deployment

Tribes across the United States have been given the option of receiving grants of Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines through the Indian Health Service, the federal agency responsible for providing public health services to tribes, or through the governments of the respective tribal states.

As sovereign nations, individual tribal governments determine how they will distribute the vaccine among tribal members. The Duck Valley Shoshone Paiute Tribe and other tribes in Nevada follow the guidelines of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, which prioritize essential healthcare workers, other essential workers, the elderly and people aged 16 and over. at age 64 with underlying health problems before moving on to the general public.

Tribes across the country have received nearly $ 200 million in the second aid package passed by Congress in December to help roll out the vaccine and $ 800 million for COVID testing and contact tracing.

The rate at which each tribe administers the vaccine varies and depends on vaccine allocations, population size, health facility resources, and the willingness of tribe members to receive the vaccine.

And while hope to curb the spread of the virus lies in the vials of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines that have arrived at all tribal health clinics across the state, tribal members, as well as members of other communities of color. , say they are less likely to get the vaccine, which some attribute to a long-standing mistrust of government and a consequence of historical inequalities.

Some members of the tribe even wonder if the vaccine may be an attempt by the government to poison their communities, as John has heard from some members of the community. The indigenous peoples of the United States and their tribes have been wiped out by previous epidemics, such as measles, smallpox, and the Spanish flu, spread by white settlers.

John said she made an effort to speak out with accurate messages amid the disinformation swirling among members of the community. She said she even convinced a few of her family to change their mind about the vaccine.

“We don’t have a lot of information,” John said. “And some of my family don’t watch the news, they don’t have social media. So any information they receive is done by word of mouth. So I try to be an informant of accurate and scientifically substantiated information to help my family members make a decision which will be their first choice, but to give them information that is not conspiracy theories or based on fear.

For John, and for Indigenous people everywhere, the seriousness of preserving their communities remains.

“I really, really hope that more aboriginals (get vaccinated), I think we have to put aside some of the historical trauma that we are sitting with. And in that case, consider that we are an endangered species. We are the descendants of the original people of this land, we are not many. We have to protect ourselves. ”

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