Tribal health organizations speed up Covid-19 vaccinations

Feb 3, 2021

Credit SVT Health and Wellness

As the federal and state governments continue to roll out Covid-19 vaccines, they designate the doses for different groups. In the general population, those 65 and older are currently prioritized. Healthcare and assisted living facility personnel and residents were in the first wave of inoculations.
    Other doses have been specifically earmarked for federally-funded Indian Health Service clinics, and are sent to them directly, skipping the state middleman.
    Seldovia Village Tribe’s Laurel Hilts explains that the direct relationship with the federal government allows clinic’s like SVT Health and Wellness to set its own vaccination priorities.
    “A really important thing to note is that we have seen from the beginning, we have seen the federal government say there is a priority that needs to be in place for our indigenous peoples here in the United States. That was specifically done through the Trump administration. And the results are that today here we are now moving into a new administration, but today we can reflect and say, yes, that priority allowed the tribal health organizations throughout the state of Alaska to get vaccine out to people at a quicker rate than we're seeing on the general scale, especially in the Lower 48.”
    During the Obama Administration the Indian Health Service and the Veterans Administration struck a deal so veterans can be seen at participating IHS facilities, including SVT Health and Wellness. It has turned many Native health organizations into true community health centers.
    Because SVT Health and Wellness and other Alaska Native health organizations have experience serving such disparate populations, Hilts says they are able to handle this vaccine distribution so well.
    “The ability to get vaccine to people is because these organizations and governments have prioritized providing healthcare year round. It's not just providing healthcare around COVID, it's being a part of people's health journey throughout their lives. And so I think that commitment is why today we're able to say Alaska has been really successful in vaccine delivery.”
    Hilts says tribal leadership, not just in Seldovia, is working across the state to be more inclusive in health care.
    “You look at that throughout all of the regions of the state of Alaska, where that is happening, it's incredible. And to me, it's just an incredible reflection on the values that are held by the indigenous people to take care of their own people group, as well as the others around them. And we've seen that again and again and again. And so to me, that's just an incredible thing.”
    SVT Health and Wellness has administered 354 first COVID-19 vaccine doses as of Monday and 163 second doses.  219 of the first doses were vaccines allocated by the State of Alaska, and 135 were vaccines allocated by Indian Health Services. It will have 50 doses arriving this month from the state to be administered under its guidelines, and 100 doses from IHS to be administered under Tribal health guidelines.