By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
In December 2020, Victoria Harlan, an elder of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI), took the first COVID-19 vaccine dose administered by the Tribe’s health care system. As of Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021, a total of 1,705 doses have been administered to 1,232 individuals. The Tribe has received and is using the Pfizer vaccine.
“Vaccine distribution is going very well,” said Dr. Richard Bunio, Cherokee Indian Hospital Authority executive medical director. “We are getting the vaccine into arms as fast as we are receiving it. We are only limited by the vaccine supply which is a challenge across the country right now. I would ask the public to be patient as we immunize the most vulnerable members of this community first.”
As of press time, the EBCI Mass Vaccination Team (MVT) reports the Tribe is in Phase One (B) vaccinating all EBCI elders 60 years of age and older. Prior, they vaccinated those who wished to take the vaccine from the following groups: CIHA and PHHS (Public Health and Human Services) front-line health care workers, Public Safety departments, Tsali Care Center staff and residents, congregate living facilities, Cherokee language speakers, elders 70+ with two high-risk health conditions followed by elders 70+, Downs Syndrome patients, current cancer patients undergoing treatment, and elders 60+ with two high-risk health conditions. After all EBCI elders 60+ wishing to take it are vaccinated, the MVT will move on to EBCI elders 50+ with two high-risk health conditions to be followed by all EBCI elders 50+.
The EBCI tribal government has been on a modified schedule, with offices closed and most employees working remotely, for several weeks due to increased case counts as reported by the EBCI Joint Information Center (EBCI JIC). Since Jan. 1, the EBCI JIC has reported 265 new positive cases and two new deaths.
Dr. Bunio added, “I want to stress to everyone fortunate enough to receive the vaccine that it is not a reason to stop following the three Ws. We have had several people become infected before the vaccine has had time to build immunity in their systems. Even after the second dose, some 5 percent of people will still be susceptible to infection. Please stay safe until the disease rates of this pandemic are under better control.”
After taking the vaccine, Harlan stated, “I’m truly honored. I don’t know what else to say. I’m excited, I hope the line picks up and stays backed up the rest of the day when people find out it’s available today. But at the same time, I certainly understand the apprehension, the just not knowing. Again, my response is I’d rather do this than take my chances with COVID. I don’t think I’m taking a chance at all.”
The MVT informs EBCI tribal members wishing to receive a vaccine to call their primary care team at Cherokee Indian Hospital 497-9163 Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.