Fresno County Native communities struggle with low vaccination rates

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Efforts continue to get people in Fresno County vaccinated and boosted. However, the county's American Indian and Alaskan Native populations are behind.

From colorful, informative brochures to several incentives -- the Fresno American Indian Health Project is finding ways to spread awareness among American Indians and Alaskan Natives in the county about the COVID-19 vaccine.

"We've done billboards. We're in buses right now, promoting vaccines," shared Mike Colvard, media manager. "We're in over 180 stores and shops throughout Fresno with our brochures. So there's a big push on our end."

It's a response to the group's low vaccination numbers.

According to county data, less than 50% of those eligible are fully vaccinated and boosted.

"We have provided 1,804 (vaccines) through the end of February, said Bertha Ramirez, director of operations. "Some boosters and the first and second doses."

While the organization is happy to see people roll their sleeves up for the shot, they also acknowledge there's still a lot of work to be done.

There are various reasons the organization is seeing vaccine hesitancy in the community. They explained the most common reason is a historical distrust of the government.

Colvard shared an incident where a box of their vaccine brochures had the words "Smallpox blankets" written on it.
"That goes back to the 1700s, when the British and the colonial forces were coming to America," he explained. "The Army handed out a few blankets to Native Americans that were laced with smallpox, as an event to exterminate the tribe at that time that was there fighting once."

There's also been a huge effort to educate the organization's clients and patients of the medical facility.

"We do have doctors and medical experts here that can attest to the safety," said Felicia Batts, director of care integration.

Similar to state and county health leaders, the organization is focused on vaccinating the younger population, especially now that school mask requirements are set to end.

"We are only safe until the next variant emerges," explained Dr. Richa Kaushal, the deputy medical director. "So the next variant will emerge unless we have a certain level of herd immunity. Children form a large portion of our population."

The organization encourages those in the American Indian and Alaskan Native communities to reach out for more information about the COVID vaccine.

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