Native American Tribes Provide COVID-19 Vaccines to Public

A Cherokee Nation official says they will vaccinate everyone, including undocumented immigrants.

Cherokee Nation Vaccine
Jason Stanfill, 44, traveled from Broken Arrow to receive his COVID-19 vaccine at the Cherokee Nation Outpatient Health Center in Tahlequah on Mar. 18, 2021. Photo provided by Cherokee Nation.

When the Cherokee Nation first began receiving COVID-19 vaccines from the Indian Health Service, supplies were limited so vaccinations were focused on health care workers and fluent Cherokee speakers. As time has passed, the tribe’s allotment has increased to the point where they feel comfortable opening it up to the general public, Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin said. 

“Our first obligation is always to our citizens, but we are good community partners and the virus doesn’t care if you’re a Cherokee citizen,” he said.

In opening up to the general public, Hoskin said that will include undocumented immigrants. 

“Cherokee Nation is going to do its level best to vaccinate everyone,” he said.

Native American tribes around the country are beginning to provide COVID-19 vaccines to people who are not members of their tribe. This includes other Oklahoma tribes like the Quapaw and Chickasaw Nations. The Quapaw Nation is partnering with Northeastern Tribal Health System to host a free vaccination clinic from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Apr. 13 at Downstream Casino Resort in Quapaw, Okla., that’s open to anyone 18 years of age or older. No appointment is required.

John Krueger is the chief medical officer and chief quality officer of the Chickasaw Nation Department of Health. Chickasaw Nation is also administering vaccines to the general public because “germs don’t know borders,” Krueger said.

“We took a broader view of the pandemic and actually looked at what was good for our Chickasaw people, what was good for our patients, what was good for our employees and their families, and what was good for our communities,” he said. 

Serving the community has meant providing access to the vaccine in a variety of ways. There are four Chickasaw Nation campuses where the vaccine is administered and health officials also have hosted smaller events targeted toward specific populations. There’s a transportation system that will give people a ride to a vaccination site. Likewise, health care workers have made house calls to vaccinate homebound patients. 

People can receive registration assistance through a call center or they can sign up at a vaccination site. Appointments can also be made at www.COVIDVaccine.Chickasaw.Net. While health officials vaccinated fewer people last week, likely due to Spring Break, Krueger said they vaccinated around 6,000 people the week prior. The goal is to do their part and get as many people vaccinated as possible.

“We are grateful for every vaccine going into an arm,” Krueger said.

With expanded options for locations to obtain a vaccine, now the challenge becomes convincing people to have confidence in the vaccine, Hoskin said. With more than 380,000 citizens, about 13,000 of which live in Arkansas, Cherokee Nation is the largest tribal nation in the country. 

Hoskin estimates more than 22,000 Cherokee citizens have been fully vaccinated. To ensure more tribal members become vaccinated, Hoskin said they’re working to identify the specific issues that are leading to hesitancy and addressing them. 

“Some issues have less to do with confidence and more to do with convenience,” he said.

To address confidence, officials will be sharing answers to specific questions about the vaccine on social media. To address convenience, hours of operation at vaccination sites are being extended on certain days. Officials are also considering mass vaccinations at gaming facilities and Hoskin said there will be announcements on that in the near future. It’s important to show respect for people who are reluctant to receive the vaccine by listening to them and responding to their concerns, Hoskin said. 

“I firmly believe this vaccine is effective and it’s the only way we’re going to get through this as a community, as a state, as a tribe, as a country and really as people of the world,” he said.  

Appointments can be scheduled at any of Cherokee Nation’s outpatient health centers by calling 1-539-234-4099. Same-day appointments may be available and patients can request either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine when registering. 

Antoinette Grajeda
Antoinette Grajeda

Antoinette Grajeda is Editor-in-Chief of Arkansas Soul, the host of the Affirmative Action podcast and a Northwest Arkansas-based journalist. She has covered race, culture, politics, health, education and the arts in Arkansas for nearly 15 years.