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'Viruses Don't Respect Tribal Citizenship': Tribal Nations Expand Vaccine Availability

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Cherokee Nation / Provided
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Jason Stanfill, 44, traveled from Broken Arrow to receive his COVID-19 vaccine at the Cherokee Nation Outpatient Health Center in Tahlequah on March 18.

Tribal nations throughout Oklahoma continue to expand vaccine access to non-Native Oklahomans and beyond in a collective effort that has helped the state reach one of the country’s highest vaccination rates. 

Last week, the Quapaw Nation located in Ottawa County announced it would offer vaccines to citizens in Kansas, Missouri and Arkansas. All of those states have lower vaccination rates than Oklahoma. 

The first vaccination event occurred on Saint Patrick's Day and was exclusively for Quapaw citizens and people associated with Quapaw Nation businesses in Ottawa County - including those working at the tribal nation's casinos and their family members. Many employees live in neighboring states, or work at the newly opened Saracen Resort and Casino in Arkansas.  

Next month, Quapaw Nation is partnering with Northeastern Tribal Health System to provide the Moderna vaccine to anyone 16 and older living in the Four States Region and surrounding area. Health officials say no appointment is necessary but it is only while supplies last.

Josephy Tali Byrd, Quapaw Nation's Business Committee Chairman, said getting the community vaccinated will help life get back to normal for the tribal nation. 

"We know viruses don’t respect tribal citizenship or state lines," said Byrd in a statement released to the press. "When our entire community and the communities around us are safer, we’re all safer, so it’s a service we’re happy to help provide."

Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt has touted Oklahoma for being one of the top states in the nation for vaccination rates. Many say it's in large part because tribal nations have worked to lower barriers and made them available to all Oklahomans, despite the state's tiered system.

The Cherokee Nation also announced that it is lowering the barriers for vaccination, opening the process to any adult, regardless of where they live. In some instances, same day appointments are available, and patients can request which vaccine they want.

“We are making every effort to ensure the vaccination process is quick and easy for all patients,” said Chief of Staff Todd Enlow in a statement.

Since receiving their first doses of the vaccine in mid-December, Cherokee Nation has fully vaccinated 36,500 people. 

Last week, Chickasaw Nation expanded vaccine availability to any Oklahoma resident - not just tribal citizens. Vaccines are free of charge and there are no tribal citizenship, employment or state residency requirements. 

“We are pleased to do our part to help put an end to this pandemic,” Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby said in a statement. “Working together, we can help protect our family, friends and neighbors as we help speed our return to a greater sense of normalcy. Vaccinations, wearing masks, responsible distancing and washing our hands will help make our community and state safer for everyone."

The Muscogee (Creek) Nation Department of Health also announced expansion efforts. 

All Oklahomans, 18 and older can get a vaccine in Tulsa at the River Spirit Expo Center during the last weekend in March. The tribal nation is partnering with Indian Health Service to provide 4,000 doses of the vaccine.  

So far, MCN has administered nearly 21,000 first and second doses of COVID vaccinations to healthcare employees, frontline workers, Muscogee elders, citizens and high-risk patients.

 
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