Addressing COVID-19 vaccine concerns in Indigenous peoples of America communities
Note: Some Indigenous peoples of America may prefer the term “Native American.” Some may prefer “American Indian.” And some may identify as “Native Alaskan.” The term “Native American” will be used here to include all these groups, with the acknowledgement that some Indigenous peoples of America might identify differently.
- COVID-19 is a serious threat that has deeply impacted Native American communities.
- The vaccines have been tested with Native American populations and reviewed by experts.
- All the vaccines are equally safe and effective.
- The vaccines keep people from getting sick and dying.
- Getting vaccinated protects the whole community.
- The vaccine is available to everyone over 5, though people in high-risk categories should get vaccinated first.
- The vaccines are free for everyone – regardless of immigration status or insurance.
- Appointments can be scheduled online or by phone in Spanish and English and translation services are available.
COVID-19 vaccines are now available to most Californians. For some, this might bring a sense of relief. For others, there still may be concerns about getting vaccinated. Some people from certain racial and ethnic groups may hesitate to seek care. This may be due to distrust of government and healthcare systems that have been responsible for inequities in treatment.
Native American communities have had some of the highest rates of infection and death during the pandemic. Native Americans are 3.5 times more likely to get COVID-19 and twice as likely to die. The numbers may, in fact, be worse. This is because Native Americans are often misclassified as White, Hispanic/Latino, or other racial/ethnic groups.
Because of these concerns, many doctors, scientists, and health experts have created resources to help address questions. Here are a few of these experts working towards equity within Native American communities. Their work helps bring concerns Native Americans may have to the state and national level.
- Dr. David R. Wilson, Ph.D. (Diné) is the Director of the Tribal Health Research Office. The Tribal Health Research Office represents Tribal health concerns at the National Institutes of Health. Dr. Wilson has hosted webinars with Dr. Anthony Fauci addressing Tribal health concerns about the COVID-19 vaccines.
- Stacy A. Bohlen (Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians) is the Chief Executive Officer of the National Indian Health Board (NIHB). The NIHB represents Tribal governments and advocates for health care services on the federal level. The NIHB has a resource center with information for Tribal nations about COVID-19 and the vaccines.
- Dr. Mary Owen, MD (Tlingit) is the director of the Center of American Indian and Minority Health at the University of Arizona. She is also President of the Association of American Indian Physicians. She has worked to provide health resources to Tribal nations during the pandemic. She also works to dispel myths about the vaccines.
- Jonathan Nez (Diné) is the President of the Navajo Nation. He has been working to get COVID-19 resources, including vaccines, to Tribal members.
In addition to listening to these experts, it may be helpful to get more information from a family doctor, a Tribal leader, promotores, or a community-based organization, such as the California Consortium for Urban Indian Health (CCUIH).
Are the vaccines safe for everyone?
The Association of American Indian Physicians and the National Indian Health Board both work to represent the interests of Native American physicians and their patients. Both organizations agree that the vaccines are safe. They are also actively working to get those living on Tribal lands vaccinated.
Diversity in clinical trials is important. This makes sure that the vaccines are safe for everyone. The clinical trials for all the approved vaccines showed that the vaccines were safe for all participants. In addition, Native American populations were represented in all the vaccine clinical trials.
- Moderna – 0.8% identified as American Indian/Alaska Native
- Pfizer-BioNTech – 0.5% identified as American Indian/Alaska Native
- Johnson & Johnson (Janssen) – 9.5% identified as American Indian/Alaska Native
Learn more about the vaccines’ safety and effectiveness
Are all the vaccines equal? Is one better than the other?
All the vaccines are very effective in preventing COVID-19. They also protect against severe illness, hospitalization, and death. In the trials, all three vaccines resulted in zero deaths or hospitalizations.
- Pfizer-BioNTech – 95% effective after second dose
- Moderna – 94.1% effective after second dose
- Johnson & Johnson (Janssen) – 85% effective after 28 days
These numbers are quite high for vaccines. To give some perspective, flu shots are typically only 40 to 60% effective.
For more details, read our vaccine FAQs.
What are the benefits of getting vaccinated?
The vaccines are key for helping to end the pandemic. They offer protection from a life-threatening virus. They can keep people from getting sick. Or if someone does catch the virus, they can reduce the severity of symptoms and prevent hospitalization and death. They also protect against the potential long-term health effects of the virus.
Getting vaccinated might also help reduce the risk of and spread of new COVID-19 variants. These are new strains of the virus. Much is still unknown about the variants. But vaccinating is one powerful tool to help protect against the COVID-19 variants.
Is it possible to wait a little longer before getting vaccinated?
The CDC says fully vaccinated people can now visit other fully vaccinated people indoors with no masks or social distancing. So the sooner everyone gets the vaccine, the sooner everyone can see friends and family safely. With each day that passes without getting vaccinated, there is more risk of catching COVID-19. Also, it will take longer to reach herd immunity.
Some people may think those who are vaccinated can’t spread the virus. This may not be true. Scientists still don’t yet know how well the vaccine stops people from spreading the virus. That means unvaccinated people could still be at risk. The virus spreads even when people don’t have symptoms.
Who should get vaccinated as soon as possible?
The vaccines are available to everyone 5 and older. But getting vaccinated is very important for those in the high-risk categories below. People in these groups have a higher risk of hospitalization or death.
- Have a chronic condition
- Are 65 or older
- Live in a home with more than one generation, like grandparents or grandchildren
- Are an essential worker with exposure to the public or are unable to social distance at work
For specific conditions or other concerns, a family doctor, pharmacist, or community health center may have more information.
Remember: the vaccine is free for everyone – regardless of immigration status or insurance.
What’s the easiest way to get a COVID-19 vaccine?
The easiest way to stay up to date in California is to sign up on the My Turn website. The My Turn site is available in 12 languages, including English and Spanish. Vaccine appointments can be made through the site. Or, an alert will be sent when the vaccine becomes available. If needed, it may be helpful to ask a family member, friend, health navigator, or promotores to help set up an appointment on the My Turn site. Initial supplies are limited, so there might be fewer appointments available at this time. There will be more available in the coming months.
Those who don’t have access to a smart phone, the internet, or email can call the California COVID-19 Hotline at (833) 422-4255. The hotline offers services in English and Spanish. Translation services are also available in more than 250 languages. The hotline is available Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
A family doctor or healthcare provider can also help. They might be providing the vaccine. They might also know when the vaccine is available in certain areas.
Still have questions?
Learn more at the resources below:
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