Protect your community: Meet Virginia Hedrick

Last updated: Jul 8, 2021
Vaccines are important to protecting the health of California’s at-risk 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 “Alaska Native.” The term “American Indian” will be used here to include all these groups, with the acknowledgement that some Indigenous peoples of America might identify differently.

“None of these inequities were necessarily borne out of the pandemic. These are things that are being highlighted by the pandemic. I hope it’s something that we will learn lessons from.”– Virginia Hedrick 

Virginia Hedrick is the Executive Director for the Consortium for Urban Indian Health. She is an enrolled member of the Yurok Tribe of California and is also of Karuk descent. Her prior work includes chronic disease prevention, implementation, and policy impacts of the Affordable Care Act for California tribes, as well health research.

While many communities in the U.S. are experiencing challenges in accessing the COVID-19 vaccine, American Indian communities face an added hurdle: health conditions that put them at higher risk of suffering serious illness from the virus.

American Indian communities have experienced some of the highest rates of COVID-19 cases, as well as hospitalizations and deaths, of any racial or ethnic group in the country.  American Indians 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 American Indians are often misclassified as White, Hispanic/Latino, or other racial/ethnic groups. 

Important reasons to get vaccinated

Several factors put California’s population – including American Indian communities – at higher risk for becoming infected with COVID-19.

These may include:

  • Living in a multigenerational home
  • Being an essential worker
  • Difficulty accessing health care, often due to discrimination
  • Comorbidities

Hedrick says more about how comorbidities can disproportionately affect American Indians and put them at a higher risk of serious illness or death from COVID-19.

“American Indians have the highest rates of diabetes…high blood pressure or chronic disease such as heart disease,” she told FOX 40. “Those are the things we already experience at a higher rate in the American Indian community. It makes sense a disease like COVID-19 would be disproportionately impacting us.”

In another interview with USA Today, Hendrick emphasizes that the vaccine “will save lives. And we do know as Indigenous people that value resonates with us – that we really have to meet our prayers halfway. So, when we’re praying for health and wellness and long life, we have to do the things that get us there.”

 

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