In Cherokee Nation and across the world, we have struggled with the deadly COVID-19 virus for most of 2020. We have made sacrifices and suffered terrible losses, but we see a ray of hope. New vaccines arriving in Cherokee Nation offer freedom from the threat of this terrible virus.
Through advocacy, strategic preparation and strong collaboration with the Indian Health Service, we secured nearly 1,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine, the first approved for use in the United States. We have launched a three phase plan for vaccine distribution.
In the first phase, Cherokee Nation has already begun vaccinating our frontline health care workers and emergency responders. These health care heroes are the first priority for vaccination so we can protect them while they continue the work of protecting us and so many Cherokee patients.
Also in the first phase, we are vaccinating Cherokee speakers, Cherokee National Treasures, and elders over the age of 65. These culture keepers, elders, and speakers hold in their talents and memories so much of our priceless Cherokee heritage, but they have sadly been hit the hardest by the pandemic. We must defend every elder so they can pass down essential cultural lessons to our younger generations.
The second phase of vaccines will include non-health care critical staff such as teachers and child care workers, food security staff, and shelter staff, as well as Cherokees under age 55 with underlying health conditions. The third phase will target the general Cherokee population and users of Cherokee Nation Health Services.
I believe in the vaccine and the science behind it. I am 100 percent confident that it is safe and will be successful at containing the virus. Not only have the scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration thoroughly tested and approved it, but our own Cherokee Nation health officials have inspected it and assured me that it is effective.
I know some may be hesitant about taking the vaccine, but I am convinced by its 90 percent effectiveness rate and strong safety record in clinical trials. I encourage all Cherokees to get the vaccine, and I will absolutely be taking it too.
Cherokee Nation remains on the frontlines in battling this public health crisis. Through our strong partnership with the U.S. government and Indian Health Services, we have had great access to testing, medications, and critical information throughout the pandemic. Thanks to our dedicated Cherokee Nation Health Services staff, we are administering the vaccine ourselves to save lives. We have also invested in and built high tech infrastructure to safely store and distribute the vaccine.
As we continue our phased plan and receive more doses in the weeks to come, we look forward to healing and a slow return to normalcy across the Cherokee Nation. We can see an end to this pandemic, and that makes it even more important to stop the spread of COVID-19 now, knowing we will be much safer from it next year.
According to the CDC, the COVID-19 infection rate is 3.5 times higher for American Indians. Cherokee Nation has seen nearly 7,000 positive cases of COVID-19 and 50 deaths, including 20 Cherokee speakers within the tribe’s health care system. We know how easy COVID-19 can spread when we don’t take precautions like limiting in-person gatherings and wearing masks. The vaccine offers hope, but we must remain vigilant, wear masks and practice social distancing for a while longer to protect our families and communities.
You can stay up to date with vaccine news at www.cherokee.org and the Cherokee Nation Facebook page.
Chuck Hoskin Jr.