Vaccine distribution underway among Valley's American Indians

The Tule River Indian Reservation has seen a spike in coronavirus cases over the last couple of months.
TULARE COUNTY, Calif. (KFSN) -- The distribution of the COVID-19 vaccination is well underway among the Central Valley's American Indian population.

Many tribal members have received their first shot, and some have already gotten their booster.

Neil Peyron is relieved that regular shipments of the COVID-19 vaccine are being delivered to the Tule River Indian Reservation, situated deep in the foothills of southern Tulare County.

The vice chairman of the tribal council has underlying health issues, but the arrival of shots is more than just a personal matter.

The reservation has seen a spike in coronavirus cases over the last couple of months, and tribal officials say they weren't sure at first what kind of allotment they would receive.

"The board's been, and Dr. Coles, and (nurse) Leah (Williams), and all the other staff have been really aggressive and progressive about making sure that we're not left out this time and that we're being treated," Peyron said. "We're probably getting the vaccine before anybody else in the county."

The tribe is getting their supply through Indian Health Service, or IHS, the federal health program for American Indians.

The Tule River Indian Health Center has received 400 doses of the Moderna vaccine so far and has administered more than 180 doses to medical staff, tribal elders, and most recently, essential tribal workers such first responders and casino employees.

"We've got a lot of people calling," said Leah Williams, a nurse with the Tule River Indian Health Center. "I have an ongoing list that's probably 10 pages long of people that are interested in getting this vaccine."

"We've done mass calls and e-mails and social media posts and posting flyers around the reservation too," said Tule River Tribal Public Health Officer Eric Coles. "So definitely trying hard to get everyone aware of the vaccines."

Central Valley Indian Health's five clinics in Fresno, Madera, and Kings Counties are also receiving weekly shipments from IHS.

Like the Tule River Tribe's clinic, they have a relatively small workforce, so have been able to quickly inoculate them, and move on to administering shots to patients who are 65 and over, high-risk, or those who work in essential industries.

"Some of those have already received their vaccinations, some are already scheduled," said Central Valley Indian Health Executive Director Chuck Fowler. "They have three different ways they can schedule, and then in some cases, we're coordinating with the tribal offices."

Below is a statement IHS sent to Action News.

The Indian Health Service has worked in close coordination with the Department of Health and Human Services, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and local, state, and tribal governments to plan for COVID-19 vaccination of American Indians and Alaska Natives. The IHS has worked with tribal communities to design distribution plans based on each local community and its unique populations and geographical characteristics, since tribal leaders and members are in the best position to understand the health care needs and priorities of their communities.
Copyright © 2021 KFSN-TV. All Rights Reserved.