EDITORIAL: COVID response from EBCI should be praised 

by Feb 22, 2021OPINIONS




There has been much said in America about the federal, state, and municipal rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine. The reviews from various communities have been mixed. Many feel that somewhere in the supply chain of the vaccine, the distribution of the much-needed vaccines has not been handled with the care and expediency that could have prevented more illness, suffering, and death. 

As you look at the municipalities surrounding the Qualla Boundary, you see slow movement through the age-based phases of inoculation in local populations. Some municipalities are still not through their 65-plus age group with pre-existing conditions. And while all may continue to practice the protection practices that we have all but memorized, washing, waiting, and wearing, most of us understand that the vaccines are the pathway to returning to “normal” community health through herd immunity from COVID-19. 

Our EBCI (Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians) Public Health and Human Services Division (PHHS) and Cherokee Indian Hospital Authority (CIHA) have been two of the most responsive and engaged health organizations in Indian Country and America. Early in the pandemic, the government of the Tribe ordained these organizations to lead medical decisions and recommend municipal measures to contain and control the pandemic. 

They have led by issuing preventative measures and feeding educational materials to the public. They established a “Joint Information Council” (JIC) that has steadily and consistently provided information to the public. This JIC is comprised of leaders from various departments charged with community services. In addition to CIHA and PHHS, JIC participants include school administrative officers, transportation officers, leaders from the Cherokee Boys Club, emergency services, the police department, the Communications Division, and the Chief’s office. 

The CIHA and PHHS have been organizing and leading the way on all aspects of the COVID response since February 2020. Preplanning had taken place well in advance of the inoculation rollout. As the rollout progressed, tribal members reported a well-organized operation, with no long waits, cordial services, and excellent care. The vast majority of those vaccinated have reported mild to no ill effects from the vaccines. The efforts even extended to a day-long vaccination clinic at the Tribal Bingo Hall that netted approximately a thousand more beginning the process to immunity from COVID-19. And there are already signs that things are improving regarding the number of new infections and people needing isolation and quarantine. While health officials at a national level continue to warn that we are not out of the woods quite yet, the efforts of our Tribal health organizations have certainly brought us closer to a return to normalcy. 

This is not the time to listen to or participate in gossip and unfounded speculation. All the data and science is pointing us in the direction of widespread vaccination. Our health care professionals were some of the first people to voluntarily take the vaccine. And some of our most treasured tribal members, our elders, were advised by their caretakers and families to take the vaccine. It is illogical to think that our community leaders would recommend a medicine that would be harmful to the community. All are entitled to opinion, but it is dangerous to the community to distort or misrepresent facts. 

The Cherokee One Feather applauds the efforts of our medical, public health, and tribal leadership in the measures taken to protect the mental and physical health of our Tribe. We thank all the essential workers throughout the Tribe, including all those in Fire and Emergency Management, Cherokee Police Department, Sanitation, food service institutions, and the many others who provide services to the community. We concur with those entities in the believe that vaccinations are safe and necessary to the health of our Tribe. We join them in urging all who are eligible to schedule an appointment to get vaccinated and when called to keep their appointment. The vaccine is the best hope for protecting ourselves and our community from continued pain and suffering.