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Many IHS, Tribal Facilities Greatly Expanding Vaccine Eligibility, Including To Some Non-Natives

Muscogee (Creek) Nation
Signage outside a Muscogee (Creek) Nation COVID-19 vaccination site at the Mvskoke Dome in Okmulgee on Friday, Feb. 19.

Many Oklahoma health care facilities run by either or both the Indian Health Service and individual tribes have begun greatly expanding eligibility for COVID-19 vaccine appointments, including for non-Native household members and caregivers of tribal citizens. 

"All Oklahoma City Area federal facilities have vaccine appointments available for eligible American Indians and Alaskan Natives, as well as their non-Native household members and caregivers, who are 16 years of age and older," the IHS Oklahoma City Area, which covers all of Oklahoma and Kansas, announced Thursday.

Those facilities include the Pawnee Indian Health Service, Wewoka Indian Health Service and Claremore Indian Hospital, among others. (Wewoka and Claremore have set 18 as their minimum age.)

IHS Chief Medical Officer Rear Adm. Michael Toedt said on a Thursday press call that discretion on who to vaccinate, including non-Native community members, is generally left to local facilities and tribal health departments.

"Locally, in terms of any of those individuals who interact with and/or are part of the community, that's a local decision based on the needs of the community balanced with the supply of vaccine and logistics of administering the vaccine," Toedt said.

Many tribally-run health facilities have also expanded their eligibilities. The Muscogee (Creek) Nation is now vaccinating any Natives 16 and older with CDIB cards or other documentation of tribal affiliation. The Cherokee Nation is doing the same. The Osage Nation's Wha-Zha-Zhe Health Clinic is vaccinating Natives 18 and older.

Toedt said there is no centralized listing of facilities offering vaccines at this time.

"Because all health care is localized, really the best way is to contact those local facilities to see what their local decisions are based on vaccine availability, based on immunizer availability," Toedt said.

Toedt said the IHS this week began listing the number of vaccines administered in each of its areas. The Oklahoma City Area reports administering more than 100,000 doses as of Monday.

"I do want to remark that IHS is vaccinating at a rate that's much higher than states" overall, Toedt said.

"It's not an accident that that's happening. It's through a proactive effort of IHS working with [the Department of Health and Human Services] on public relations campaigns, of tribes doing their own process of increasing vaccine acceptance, and a partnership between IHS and the tribes to do that," he said.

Joshua Barnett, an IHS spokesperson, noted also that a January report from the Urban Indian Health Institute found 74% of Indigenous people surveyed said "getting vaccinated is their responsibility to their community," a higher percentage than those surveyed in non-Indigenous communities of color. 

Chris joined Public Radio Tulsa as a news anchor and reporter in April 2020. He’s a graduate of Hunter College and the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism, both at the City University of New York.
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