TAHLEQUAH, Okla. —The Cherokee Nation is set to receive its first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine directly from the Indian Health Service (IHS) starting next week.
The Cherokee Nation is set to receive 975 of the first doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine the week of Dec. 14. The Cherokee Nation will vaccinate its frontline health care workers and emergency responders, Cherokee speakers, Cherokee National Treasures and elders over the age of 65 during its first phase.
“Taking a COVID-19 vaccine is another step forward to saving lives among our Cherokee people and helping stop the spread of this deadly virus in our Cherokee communities,” Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said. “I know some of our Cherokee elders may have reservations about taking the vaccine, but it will save our elders, our speakers, our National Treasures and frontline workers. As we continue our phased plan and get more doses into 2021 to begin vaccinating our employees and citizens, we can begin the process of healing from what we know is the worst public health crisis our tribe has faced in generations.”
The Cherokee Nation made several purchases and facility updates to keep the COVID-19 vaccines stored properly.
“We have been working with IHS and following CDC guidelines to create a prioritization plan that will include our frontline health care workers and those who are at high risk of infection to be among the first to receive the vaccine so that we can get our most vulnerable and at-risk populations vaccinated,” said Brian Hail, Deputy Executive Director of External Operations for Cherokee Nation Health Services.
The vaccine will be administered in two doses, with the second dose given exactly 21 days after the first. Citizens must take both doses for the vaccine to be effective. Future vaccines may mandate different dose requirements and the Cherokee Nation may alter its distribution plans accordingly.
“We’re planning based on current vaccine distributions arriving in the coming weeks, and the distribution plans may change as we learn more about the future vaccine availability and dosing requirements arriving from IHS in 2021,” said Chief of Staff Todd Enlow.
Phase 2 of Cherokee Nation’s vaccination distribution includes those Cherokee Nation Non-health care critical staff such as teachers and childcare staff, food security staff, shelter staff to those under age 55 with underlying health conditions.
Phase 3 includes more of the general Cherokee population and those users of Cherokee Nation Health Services and their beneficiaries.
“The more of our frontline staff that receive the vaccine puts us in line to receive larger allocations in the future. Use of this first allocation and the time in which we administer it, is very important to benefit our communities moving forward,” said Dr. R. Stephen Jones, Executive Director of Cherokee Nation Health Services.
Cherokee Nation Health Services plans to use all 975 doses of the vaccine within one to two weeks after receiving them per FDA guidelines. Allocations of the second dose are estimated to arrive within the 21 days. When the health system has documented the use of the first doses of the vaccine, the tribe can then request more.
Continual updates on the Cherokee Nation’s phased vaccine distribution plan and an FAQ will be posted on www.cherokee.org and the Cherokee Nation Facebook page.
The Cherokee Nation has had nearly 7,000 positive cases of COVID-19 and 50 deaths, including 20 Cherokee speakers within its health system.
“To rapidly meet the demand for tests and treatments against COVID-19, the FDA grants emergency use authorization while these tests and treatments advance toward full approval by the FDA. In an emergency, such as a public health crisis, it takes collaboration and strong decision making to ensure public safety. Because of the vaccine, we will now be able to protect more of what is precious to us, our patients, families and communities.” Jones added.
As the COVID-19 vaccine becomes more readily available, the tribe encourages everyone to continue to wear a mask, wash their hands regularly and observe social distancing. The benefit provided by the vaccine will take several months before it decreases the amount of community spread and impact to Cherokee families and communities. It is important to continue to respect the lives of Cherokee elders and honor the Cherokee language.