Guest Column: COVID cases tripled, it is time for transparency
By Ethel Branch
It has now been almost three months since the Navajo Nation Health Command Operation Center updated vaccination data on the Navajo Nation COVID-19 Dashboard.
Meanwhile our people continue to fly in the dark when it comes to grasping how close we are to herd immunity, and how safe the Navajo Nation is from COVID.
Our staff has made repeated requests to have this data updated or be pointed to the source for the data so we can calculate the numbers ourselves. Our requests have been met with silence.
Sadly, after my Aug. 27 letter to the Navajo Times raising concerns regarding the accuracy of HCOC’s vaccination rate calculation, HCOC responded by removing all vaccination data on their website rather than with transparency.
But we still need this information so we can know how safe our community is from COVID. Please, HCOC, update this data and help us all as we work to protect our people and our Nation from the virus.
Even so, a fully vaccinated percentage may not give us a true sense of whether we have herd immunity on the Navajo Nation. That is because we are learning that vaccine efficacy may diminish over time.
Accordingly, boosters for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have been approved for many who received their second dose before May, including high risk individuals such as elders 65 and older and the immunocompromised. A Johnson & Johnson booster has also been approved for those who received their shot two or more months ago.
If you fall into either of these categories, please contact your health-care provider and make arrangements to get your booster shot right away. Otherwise, you may not have maximum vaccine protections.
Indeed, the need for boosters raises the need for yet another factor to consider when assessing who is fully vaccinated.
The Navajo Nation has seen weekly new cases of COVID reported on NDOH’s data dashboard more than triple from an all-time Delta surge high of 421 new cases per week as of Oct. 15 to 1,302 new cases per week as of Oct. 22. This makes us concerned at Navajo & Hopi Families COVID-19 Relief Fund that fully vaccinated people who received their vaccines in December through April may believe they have the full protection of the vaccines but are unknowingly walking around without those protections and catching COVID.
As the number of new cases continues to spike, so does the need for our people to get fully vaccinated or receive their booster shots so they have the fullest protections of the vaccines.
On Oct. 15, CNN reported that unvaccinated individuals are six times more likely to get infected and 19 times more likely to be hospitalized. The CDC reported in September that those who remain unvaccinated are 11 times more likely to die from COVID.
Strangely, the Associated Press has recently reported no new COVID-related deaths on the Navajo Nation for 11 of 17 days, and 13 of 19 days.
However, for the first three weeks of October, we’ve lost 32 additional relatives, and have steadily lost 7 to 10 relatives a week.
The COVID-19 virus is still out there. It continues to infect and kill our relatives while the only official source of vaccination data on the Navajo Nation continues to fail to update vaccination numbers that could aid us in turning the corner on COVID.
This means we need to be ever more vigilant at the family level to protect our community and our loved ones from the virus. Let’s not fall subject to “pandemic amnesia” where we forget how devastating the impacts of COVID have been to our Nation.
We have not returned to normal. Now is not the time to resume visits to events like the Indian National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas, Nevada, and state fairs. This risks us bringing the more highly transmissible Delta variant back home to our families and friends on the Nation.
With diminished vaccine efficacy, our elders and relatives with underlying health conditions like diabetes, cancer or obesity are again at heightened vulnerability to COVID and related adverse health outcomes.
Let’s double down and strictly adhere to COVID safety precautions while our community accesses the booster and we get through the winter cold, flu and COVID season.
If we don’t, we could end up right back where we started. Already our daily new case count is back to what it was in February. We’ve come too far and lost too many relatives to let this backsliding continue.
Please help us protect our elders, immunocompromised, children and families.
Please get fully vaccinated or get your booster if it’s been six months since you were fully vaccinated (or two months if you received the J&J vaccine).
Let’s rid our Nation of COVID once and for all and move forward into a beautiful future.
Ethel Branch is interim director of the Navajo & Hopi Families COVID-19 Relief Fund and former attorney general for the Navajo Nation.