Collaboration effort brings COVID-19 vaccines to Navajo Nation homes
FRUITLAND — Robbin Tanner carefully arranged supplies needed to administer the first does of COVID-19 vaccines to David and Nina Mays at their home on the Navajo Nation.
Tanner, a public health nurse with Northern Navajo Medical Center, has been working with Maxine Tsosie, a community health representative with the Navajo Department of Health, to identify and vaccinate individuals who are unable to leave home, typically due to illness or age.
David Mays greeted Tanner and Tsosie on Feb. 24, then talked about his bout with COVID-19 last March and about his interest in getting the vaccine.
The couple tried to get vaccinated at drive-thru events in Nenahnezad and Upper Fruitland but were discouraged by long lines and hearing the explanation that supplies were limited.
"I'm glad we have people like y'all to come around and help," David Mays, 67, said after receiving a shot of the Moderna vaccine.
Moderna is used for homebound individuals because the requirements for storage and handling are not as stringent as the Pfizer vaccine, Tanner explained.
Nina Mays, 50, squinted when the needle pricked her skin.
"I feel a lot better. I wanted to get it and get it over, get it done," she said.
Tanner reminded the couple that they still need to wear masks and practice other safety measures to protect against the virus.
Public health nurses from the Indian Health Service and community health representatives from the tribe's program have worked together to provide health care services to homebound individuals before COVID-19, but now their work has taken on greater meaning as vaccination efforts ramp up on the tribal land.
Native American communities have been hit especially hard by the virus with higher rates of infection and death.
The Navajo Nation had the highest per-capita infection rate in the country in May 2020. As of Feb. 26, the tribe had 29,710 cases and 1,165 deaths – both numbers Navajo leaders have said are far too many.
Vaccines began arriving to health care facilities on the Navajo Nation in December.
Since then the IHS and tribal organizations have been rigorously administering vaccines to members, even surpassing a goal of giving 100,000 doses by the end of February.
Navajo Area IHS Chief Medical Officer Loretta Christensen told reporters on Feb. 25 that the agency has taken a multipronged approach in vaccine education and distribution, as part of efforts to reach "community immunity."
This includes building on the connection between public health nurses and community health representatives because they have boots on the ground and are familiar with communities.
"We have the advantage in IHS, and I think one of the strongest aspects of IHS is our public health nursing and our relationship with the tribes in their community health representatives," Christensen said.
This collaboration has resulted in 4,000 to 5,000 individuals receiving vaccines at home, she added.
Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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