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Guest Column: Continue to vaccinate to protect our loved ones

By Ethel Branch

One month ago, the Navajo Nation confirmed its first case of the Delta variant which is of great concern as this variant is identified as being extremely contagious with more severe symptoms.
It is reported to be 60% more transmissible than the Alpha variant, and is being referred to as two to three times more transmissible.

Submitted | Mark Peterman
Ethel Branch

It has a viral load 1000 times higher than previous strains, which contributes to its quick and easy spread to others.

The higher viral load contributes to more severe symptoms. This is especially problematic for unvaccinated individuals who don’t have the immunity-boosting protections of the vaccine. Indeed, more than 99% of recent deaths from COVID-19 are among the unvaccinated.

It’s so transmissible that even vaccinated individuals are contracting this strain, but vaccinated individuals only experience mild cold or flu-like symptoms, if any at all.

And it is possible that an infected vaccinated person with little to no symptoms can transmit the virus to someone else.

Sadly, our elderly (65 and over) and our immunocompromised remain at high risk because the vaccine merely boosts your existing immune response. Those with lower initial immune responses won’t have their immunity boosted as high as someone who starts with a higher immunity level.

So our elderly and immunocompromised should continue to take strong precautions like minimizing travel, social distancing, masking up and frequently hand washing/sanitizing – even if they are vaccinated.

The Delta variant is wreaking havoc nationally, driving a sharp spike in cases. More than 80% of these new cases are the Delta variant, so if you catch COVID-19 today, it’s very likely to be Delta.

So if you catch COVID-19 now, please adhere to strict precautions and isolate yourself from the broader community and your loved ones at home – especially unvaccinated children and the elderly and immunocompromised (even if they are vaccinated).

More recently, tribal nations have begun reconvening at national conferences and large gatherings in Delta variant hotspots, such as Nevada, currently a major hotspot.

This week, ’Vegas imposed a mask mandate but this is after many of our people visited unmasked last week for the RES and NIGA conferences.

The implications of this are tremendous. If you travelled to ’Vegas recently, please get tested to ensure you didn’t inadvertently bring the Delta variant home to your loved ones – even if you are vaccinated and experiencing no symptoms.

Some might ask, “Why get vaccinated if you can still get COVID?”

Quite simply, getting vaccinated could save your life. Almost all deaths from COVID-19 are among the unvaccinated.

Meanwhile, a vaccination will boost your immune system response to where you may never even realize you have COVID even if you catch it.

The pandemic is not over, despite how much we want it to be. Vaccination on Navajo has been largely successful, but there remain significant numbers of our people who remain unvaccinated.
We need those folks to step forward now and vaccinate to protect our broader community.

As the U.S. stands on the verge of another devastating COVID-19 wave, we want the story of Navajo to be a story of strength and success, not another story of vulnerability and devastation.
Herd immunity is critical to this success story. It can show how our community stepped up to protect our elders and immunocompromised.

Resilience to this pandemic is underscored by how quickly we are approaching herd immunity. We are currently hovering around 50% but we need to hit the 85% to 90% threshold.

To protect our communities, please try to shop locally where you are better protected with higher domestic vaccination rates. If you must shop off-reservation, consider that New Mexico has shown strong leadership and success in vaccinating their communities as compared to the other Four Corners states.

Also please refrain from traveling to Las Vegas until the uncontrolled spread of Delta is contained there and they achieve a much higher vaccination rate.

Call your loved ones to make sure they are fully vaccinated. Let’s encourage vaccination among the remaining adults who are unvaccinated and our younger people who are now eligible to be vaccinated.

A strong push to get our children vaccinated would advance our community vaccination effort tremendously.

Being fully vaccinated protects our babies, our elders, our immunocompromised and those who can’t access the vaccine. It may also save your life.

Refusing to vaccinate will only bring further devastation and we can’t afford to lose another precious Diné life to this virus. We have lost too many already.

This Delta super strain has the potential to thrust our country back into lockdown mode but the ability to mitigate the severity of this wave on Dinetah is in our hands.

Shi’ké doo shi’Diné’ doo shi’a?chini, keep your guard up. We are not through this storm yet.

Hold those you love close, make sure they are vaccinated, and continue following COVID-19 precautions.

Let’s all be good ancestors and do our part to protect our community so we as a community can continue along the beautiful path of success and wellness that we began in the spring.

Ethel Branch is interim executive director of Yee Ha’ólníi Doo, the Navajo & Hopi Families Relief Fund. She is former attorney general for the Navajo Nation.


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