By JONAH LOSSIAH
ONE FEATHER STAFF
Hundreds of people in Cherokee received their second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine thanks to another mass clinic held at Tribal Bingo on Wednesday, March 3.
The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) continues to stride forward with vaccine distribution through the work of Cherokee Indian Hospital and the EBCI Public Health and Human Services department. As of March 1, 27 percent of people on the Qualla Boundary had received at least one shot, and 1,488 people had been fully vaccinated. The first vaccine clinic event inoculated 1,237 people.
Wednesday’s event was only for those community members to receive their second shot.
Charlene Owle, an EBCI tribal member, was one of the many people to get their shots Wednesday morning. “It’s great. I’m glad it’s being offered to us so that we can fight this thing together,” said Owle.
She said that she didn’t hesitate to get the first or second shot of the Pfizer vaccine. Owle pointed to the fear of the unknown when it has come to the pandemic and how the virus can affect different people in different ways. She noted how much impact the deaths from COVID-19 have had on Cherokee. She asked those concerned about the shot to think about the opportunity they have in front of them.
“They just need to protect themselves first; protect their families and those that they love and are close to,” said Owle.
James Bradley, the EBCI Secretary of Education, got vaccinated shortly after Owle. He said one of the most challenging aspects of the pandemic has been that Cherokee is such a close-knit community. Whether it be a ball game, the Fair, or church, not being around people you care about so much has been odd and stressful, he noted. “It was really cool, the first vaccination we came for – the line was all the way around the building – and everyone was talking and laughing. Maintaining social distance, but it was really nice,” said Bradley. “Even in a serious situation, still finding humor and ways to connect, that’s not changed, regardless of what’s happened in the last year.”
Bradley continued by pleading with his community to get the vaccine when it was available to them. “Do your research. Think about other vaccines that you take that you don’t know what the contents are. Talk to people that have had it. Out of all my family that have had the shot, none of us have had any reaction at all. And then, when you feel comfortable, come and do it. Because the sooner we can all do it, the sooner we can stop wearing masks and go back to work and school and all that.”
The goal is herd immunity, and a community can’t reach that until it has around 75 percent of its people vaccinated. Vickie Bradley, Secretary of PHHS, says she’s still unsure when Cherokee can get to that number.
“We’re over 80 percent with our 70-year-olds. So, it just depends on the community and the amount of vaccine we get. So, the more people that choose to take the vaccine, the quicker we can do it. But it is all contingent upon vaccine supply,” said Vickie Bradley.
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine was recently approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), making it the third shot available to Americans. President Joe Biden said Tuesday, March 2 that with this addition there would be enough vaccines available for every adult in the United States by the end of May.
Vickie Bradley says that Cherokee will continue offering any vaccine provided by Indian Health Service (IHS), whether it be Pfizer, Moderna, or the new Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
Last week, the Hospital and PHHS began vaccine clinics for enrolled members 18 and older. Vickie Bradley says the rollout is going well, and they are trying to serve each group as soon as possible.
“We constantly are monitoring where we’re at with vaccine and what our saturation point is in the community. Obviously, our next lofty goals would be to get our workforce vaccinated. That would include our non-beneficiaries. Spouses and children of enrolled members and other non-beneficiaries,” said Vickie Bradley.
Vickie Bradley admits that she is unsure when that might be, however. The EBCI has categorized non-beneficiaries as ‘phase three’ in the rollout plan, which was estimated to start around April.
Those that received their shot on Feb. 10 but were unable to make Wednesday’s clinic must call the hospital and sign up for a second dose as soon as possible.
For more information on getting your vaccine or COVID-19 testing, the Cherokee Indian Hospital COVID hotline is 497-3743.