As sovereign nations, Native American tribes can distribute COVID-19 vaccine supplies to a wider demographic than the state process can.
As a result, the Ute Mountain Ute and Navajo tribes recently have made vaccines available to anyone age 18 and older, and plan more open clinics.
On March 3, the Ute Mountain Ute tribe vaccinated 710 people in Towaoc during a clinic at the casino that was open to any adult, said tribal Chairman Manuel Heart.
Passersby stopped in after seeing the announcement on the giant Ute Mountain Casino video marquee on U.S. Highway 160/491, and locals heard about it from news reports and social media.
Heart said the vaccine clinic was a collaboration with tribal officials, casino staff, tribal health department, Indian Health Service and Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
The Ute Mountain Ute tribe has scheduled two more open vaccine clinics open to any adult.
On March 9, a clinic will be held from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Ute Mountain Casino. The line will begin at the Bingo Hall entrance on the northwest side of the casino. Identification is needed.On March 10, an open vaccine clinic will be offered at the White Mesa, Utah Community Center, 1400 U.S. 491, from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., Heart said.“We need to look towards everyone getting vaccinated in the Four Corners Region,” Heart said. “Kudos to everyone who came out and worked together to make it happen.”
He said opening up the vaccine clinic to everyone “was a collaborative decision” made by the tribe and state health agencies.
The Utah Navajo Health System opened clinics in February and March in Montezuma Creek, Monument Valley and Blanding. Utah residency or Navajo tribe membership was not required.
However, the clinics have ceased for now, Utah Navajo Health officials said March 3.
“We were very glad to help so many people far and wide these past few drives,” the agency said in a Facebook post. “However to refocus our work” the criteria is now limiting vaccines to adult residents of San Juan County, Utah.
More than 500 adults attended the open Montezuma Creek clinic Feb. 26 and 27, according to Navajo Health System.
On Feb. 27, the health system delivered 471 doses during the Monument Valley clinic. On Feb. 16, it delivered 350 doses at the Blanding clinic.
Indian Health Service’s vaccines come directly from the federal government, and not from states, said IHS public affairs liaison Theresa Clay, thereby competing less for limited supplies.
Tribal governments and their health clinics can decide to distribute the vaccines beyond just tribal members and reservation residents, she said.
Opening up access to the vaccine is seen as effective for tribes, Clay said, because inoculations in areas near the reservation improve overall safety, and because many households have a mix of tribal and non-tribal members.
“Indian Health Service and the tribes have worked very collaboratively on delivering the vaccines to their communities,” she said.
Supplying rural reservations such as the Navajo Nation, which was hit hard by the pandemic is a big priority for the IHS, officials said, and as a result it has a high vaccination rate.
For reservation border towns like Cortez, it means access to vaccines faster than Colorado can provide. Colorado currently provides vaccines for specific high-risk groups in Phases 1A and 1B.1, 1B.2 and 1B.3. It has not opened up yet to Phase 2, which includes everyone.
On Thursday, a long line formed outside the Ute Mountain Casino for the free vaccine clinic.
“It’s fantastic, very much appreciated,” said Karen Harbaugh, who traveled from Lewis when she heard about the open clinic.
Under the state system, she is not yet eligible for a vaccine, but her husband qualified and received one.
“We limited our activities because we were not both vaccinated, so now we will feel safer going out,” she said.
Aron Adams came down from Cortez for his first vaccine shot.
“It’s super cool. The more people who get it the better it is for the community,” he said.
Jamie, Malachi and Darien Wilson said they were “thankful” and glad they did not have to wait as long for the vaccine.