TOWAOC – The Ute Mountain Ute Tribe offered another round of free COVID-19 vaccinations to anyone age 18 and older on March 16.
It was the third public vaccine clinic was held at the Ute Mountain Casino Bingo Hall. A fourth was held at the tribe’s White Mesa community in southeast Utah.
“We need to look towards everyone getting vaccinated in the Four Corners Region,” said Ute Mountain Ute Tribe Chairman Manuel Heart. “Kudos to everyone who came out and worked together to make it happen.”
Neither residency nor tribal affiliation was required to receive the vaccine. However, identification was required.
The Moderna vaccine was distributed on a first-come, first-serve basis by medical staff from Indian Health Services and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
About 700 vaccine doses were made available, tribe officials said.
Health professionals reported a smaller turnout than last week’s event.
A steady flow of people went through the lines until 11 a.m., when a lull hit that extended until about 12:30 p.m.
About three dozen chairs spaced 6 feet apart make up the waiting area. During the noon hour, about 10 people waited to see if they had a reaction to the shot.
Moderna requires two shots, with the second one 28 days after the first shot. Patients were given a time and place to receive the booster.
The public session was the tribe’s fourth. Since vaccines became available, the tribe has delivered 3,000 doses, including to tribal members, tribal staff members and to the nontribal residents of the Four Corners.
Going forward, the tribe plans to reserve its vaccine doses to people returning for their second shot, Heart said.
The tribe also received 100 doses of the Johnson and Johnson vaccines. It plans to distribute them to the homeless population in the Cortez area, Heart told Montezuma County commissioners during a meeting March 15.
Johnson and Johnson vaccines require a single shot, better for transient residents who might find it difficult to return for the follow-up shot. Tribal officials plan to coordinate with the Montezuma County Health Department and the Bridge Emergency Shelter to set up a vaccine clinic in Cortez.
As sovereign nations, Native American tribes can distribute COVID-19 vaccine supplies to a wider demographic than state protocols allow. As a result, the Ute Mountain Ute and Navajo tribes recently made vaccines available to anyone age 18 and up.
Indian Health Service’s vaccines come directly from the federal government, and not from the state, IHS public affairs liaison Theresa Clay said in an interview. Because they come from the federal stock, less of a burden is placed on limited state doses.
Tribal governments and their health clinics can decide to distribute the vaccines beyond just tribal members and reservation residents, she said.
Opening access to the vaccine is seen as effective for tribes, Clay said, because inoculations in communities near the reservation improve overall safety, and because many households have a mix of tribal and nontribal members.
Tribal-county cooperationOn March 15, Montezuma County commissioners and Ute Mountain Tribal Council held a board meeting to discuss issues relevant to both communities. County and tribal staff members, plus the mayor of Mancos, joined in the hybrid Zoom and in-person meeting at the commissioners’ meeting room.
Both governments urged collaboration on topics impacting the region, including protecting the water rights, the pandemic situation, affordable housing, mental health and substance-abuse problems, law enforcement and the economy.
The tribe and county are working toward a solution for repairing a section of Montezuma County Road G that is eroding because of a drainage issue. The tribe is also reconvening law-enforcement task force meetings with the Montezuma County Sheriff’s Office. Upgrades to the tribe’s domestic water line from Cortez to Towaoc is another priority.
“It is good to see us all get together and work on projects,” said Ute Mountain Councilman Lyndreth Wall. He said he sees the “road between Towaoc and Cortez as the Main Street” that connects and benefits both communities.
[email protected]Shannon Mullane of The Durango Herald contributed to this article.