Vaccine offered to seniors 65 and over
When it comes to administering COVID-19 vaccines on the Navajo Nation, Dr. Loretta Christensen, chief medical officer for Navajo Area Indian Health Service, said they are doing an “extraordinary” job.
Christensen said Navajo is doing better than many other areas. Still Christensen said there are those who are frustrated in trying to figure out how to actually receive a vaccine. “Each of our health care facilities is unique in their own way,” said Christensen. “They have their own community program … all of them have the objective to get you vaccinated. So work with your primary care doctor for an appointment. This week is our elder week. I want to encourage everyone over 65 to be thinking about their vaccine this week.”
The Pfizer-BioNtech and Moderna vaccines being administered on the Navajo Nation each come in two doses. By the 10th day after the first dose a person will have a little over 50% immunity to the virus. After the second dose, administered 21 or 28 days later (depending on which vaccine is used), the immunity increases to over 90%, said Christensen.
Even after receiving the vaccine people should continue to wear masks, wash their hands and social distance because there is still that small chance they could catch COVID-19. “Ninety percent for vaccines is amazing … we are very lucky,” said Christensen. “We have very good vaccines that were developed in record time. I know some of you may be worried that it was too fast, but this was good science. These are good vaccines.”
Vaccine distribution right now sounds positive, but as people wait for their vaccines the Navajo Nation’s death toll continues to rise. As of Tuesday night there were a reported 193 new cases for the Navajo Nation and three new deaths. Reports indicate that 13,065 people have recovered from COVID-19, and 217,487 tests have been administered. The total number of positive COVID-19 cases is now 25,576.
President Jonathan Nez said “it’s upon us” to prevent any more untimely deaths by taking the virus seriously and being extra cautious. “Come together as one, just like our ancestors came together as one to fight the enemy,” said Nez during Tuesday’s virtual town hall meeting. “The enemy is not the president of the Navajo Nation, the president of the USA, the Council, the lawmakers. The enemy here is the coronavirus.”
Dr. Puthiery Va, with the Chinle Comprehensive Health Care Facility, said the Navajo Nation is effectively in the plateau of a second wave. She said when comparing the Nation to the rest of the country, all the efforts put into place have resulted in a significant plateau.
“What you see with the rest of the United States, you do see they had a Thanksgiving bump and are now experiencing a surge from the seasonal impact,” said Va. “But the burden of cases, the extent of COVID-19 spread, continues to be incredibly high. The risk of COVID-19 still very high out in the communities.”
Even after expanding contact tracers to 438 across the Navajo Nation, there are still not enough for the cases striking Navajo. Going back to vaccines, Va said 26,360 total doses have been distributed, 18,012 administered, and there are 3,273 people who are fully immunized with two doses of the vaccine.
Test positivity is at 24%, hospitals are still functioning in crisis care mode and beds had to be expanded at IHS facilities. Contact tracers and medical staff are still stressed. “Navajo Nation has done a better job than the rest of the country in getting the available vaccines administered and out to people,” said Dr. Laura Hammitt, director of infectious disease prevention at Johns Hopkins Center for American Indian Health.
A new public health emergency order went into effect on Monday, extending the stay-at-home order and 57-hour weekend lockdowns through Monday, Jan. 25.