All Oklahomans are now able to get COVID-19 vaccines, but rather than having the state health department to thank, it’s due to Native tribes in the state.
As CNN reported, “The Chickasaw Nation opened up COVID-19 vaccine appointments to all Oklahoma residents, regardless of whether they are citizens of the tribe. Other tribes headquartered in Oklahoma have expanded vaccinations beyond tribal citizens, too. The Osage, Choctaw, and Citizen Potawatomi Nations are offering vaccines to all members of the public, while the Cherokee Nation has opened appointments to anyone residing within its 14-county jurisdiction.”
“The goal is to vaccinate as many people as possible, to begin to reach the herd immunity that is needed to protect the general public against the COVID-19 virus,” Todd Hallmark, executive officer of health at Choctaw Nation, said in a statement as reported by ABC News.
Oklahoma is on Phase 3 in its statewide vaccine distribution, which covers a wide swath of people, including healthcare workers, first responders, residents 65 and older, those with medical conditions, teachers and school staff, students 16 and older, people in congregate settings, public health staff, government officials and essential workers.
However, all residents won’t be eligible under the state’s plan until Phase 4.
Alaska and Mississippi are the only two states in the Union that officially open its COVID-19 vaccinations to all adults.
As CNN noted, “Tribal nations in Oklahoma received allotments of the vaccine from the Indian Health Service. As those tribes demonstrated that they were able to get shots into arms quickly, they received more and more doses — allowing them to expand their efforts beyond their own populations.”
Dr. John Krueger, chief medical officer for the Chickasaw Nation, told CNN that he credited “the tribe’s robust infrastructure for its ability to offer vaccines to non-Native members of the community.”
That includes the Chickasaw Nation’s newly-opened facility in the city of Ada, which has 16 drive-thru lines. The tribe has three other vaccination sites, plus a team that travels to people’s homes to deliver vaccines.
Kreuger explained that, now that priority groups in the Chickasaw Nation have been offered vaccines, the tribe can offer vaccines to Oklahomans.
“We are a part of these communities, and they are a part of us,” Krueger said. “The faster we can get all of us back to essential protection, the better it is for us and the better it is for everyone.”