Indian Health Service facilities start vaccinating kids 12-15 with Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON — The Indian Health Service has started giving shots of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to adolescents ages 12-15.

The IHS posted on its Facebook page on May 12 that its facilities can vaccinate those who are ages 12 and older with the Pfizer vaccine. The action follows approvals from the Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week.

"Check with your local IHS, tribal health program or urban Indian health program for more information," the post stated.

Brian Johnson, acting deputy director of the Navajo Area Indian Health Service, said on May 13 that the IHS headquarters gave the greenlight for facilities to distribute the vaccine, an action that providers had been anticipating.

More:New Mexico now vaccinating children ages 12-15 for COVID-19

Health professionals are "excited" about the Pfizer vaccine expansion to younger adolescents and the Navajo Area IHS facilities are "prepared" to administer it, said Dr. Eric Ritchie, clinical director at the Chinle Comprehensive Health Care Facility in Chinle, Arizona.

"Vaccination is a family event and it's a community event. It's up to all of us to do our part and get vaccinated in order to stop the spread of coronavirus on Navajo and to help us get back to our more normal state of life," Ritchie said.

During an online town hall on May 13, Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said his 13-year-old son wanted to get the vaccine as soon as it was available.

Nez reappeared on Facebook Live after the town hall with his son to receive the vaccine at the vaccine clinic set up by the Gallup Indian Medical Center at the University of New Mexico's campus in Gallup.

The president reminded the public that adults can still receive COVID-19 vaccines and the goal is to vaccinate between 3,000 to 5,000 tribal members over the next three days.

"If you're going to bring your child to get vaccinated and you're not vaccinated, you can get vaccinated," Nez said.

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Dr. Eric Ritchie, clinical director at the Chinle Comprehensive Health Care Facility in Chinle, Arizona, talks on May 13 about the rollout at Indian Health Service facilities of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to adolescents ages 12-15.

The effort to vaccinate members of the Navajo Nation has been happening since December. Tribal government officials and health professionals hope the momentum continues.

Dr. Diana Hu, a pediatrician at Tuba City Regional Health Care Corporation in Tuba City, Arizona, said the vaccination of young adults and children is key to reopening school buildings.

"This effort not only will protect us from disease but also help us with reopening schools," Hu said adding there have been 1,600 children diagnosed with COVID-19 on the Navajo Nation.

More:New wave of COVID-19 cases pause in-person learning at 13 San Juan County schools

On May 12, the CDC authorized use of the vaccine on the age group and the recommendation followed the May 10 action by the FDA to authorize emergency use of the vaccine.

"This official CDC action opens vaccination to approximately 17 million adolescents in the United States and strengthens our nation’s efforts to protect even more people from the effects of COVID-19. Getting adolescents vaccinated means their faster return to social activities and can provide parents and caregivers peace of mind knowing their family is protected," CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said in a statement.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at

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