Tribes preparing for vaccine distribution


Cherokee Tribe details its COVID-19 vaccination plan. Source: Cherokee Tribe

Two of Oklahoma’s largest tribes are preparing to distribute their first round of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine beginning next week, with other large tribes close behind. 

The Cherokee and Chickasaw nations both said they plan to begin vaccinations as soon as next week, close to the same schedule being followed across the state which is planning to begin vaccinations using 33,000 doses it is expecting. 

Unlike the state, however, the tribes are receiving their doses directly from the federal Indian Health Service (IHS). 

The Cherokee Nation said in a statement that it will begin its first phase COVID-19 vaccinations using 975 doses by inoculating its frontline health care workers and emergency responders, elders over the age of 65, Cherokee speakers and Cherokee National Treasures. 

“As we continue our phased plan and get more doses into 2021 to begin vaccinating our employees and citizens, we can begin the process of healing from what we know is the worst public health crisis our tribe has faced in generations,” Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. said in the release. 

A study conducted by the CDC in August 2020 found that Native American populations have a COVID-19 infection rate that is 3.5 times that of non-Hispanic whites. 

“Persisting racial inequity and historical trauma have contributed to disparities in health and socioeconomic factors between American Indian and white populations that have adversely affected tribal communities,” the CDC stated. 

The CDC has provided more than $200 million dollars to help address health disparities in Indian Country. 

The Chickasaw are also expecting to receive the first doses of the vaccine soon with plans to vaccinate healthcare workers and long-term care residents first. 

“We are expecting doses to arrive probably the week of the 10th through the 15th,”  said Chickasaw Nation’s Secretary of Health Dr. Charles Grim, in a COVID-19 Facebook update. 

The Choctaw Nation plans to follow guidelines put forth by the CDC and Indian Health Service to develop their vaccine distribution plan, which is set to be released soon according to director of public relations Casey Davis.

The Osage Nation Health Services said in a statement they are expecting to receive the Pfizer vaccine on Dec. 15 and the Moderna vaccine Dec. 21. They plan on following CDC and IHS guidelines by vaccinating healthcare workers and long-term care residents first before making elders their next priority.

“The Osage Nation believes our elders to possess knowledge of our cultural ways and traditions that are irreplaceable and occupy a higher priority than essential workers,” said Ronald Shaw, chief executive officer of the Osage Nation Health Services.  

Muscogee Creek Nation plans to administer their first doses arriving mid-December to healthcare workers and their most vulnerable populations. They will begin administering the vaccine when the first shipment of doses arrive, and it will be administered more widely as more doses become available, according to Jason Salsman, the tribe’s press secretary.

Other tribes are in the process of developing their vaccine distribution plan. Meanwhile, the state of Oklahoma has revised its vaccination plan to prioritize inoculating long-term care residents and staff, and Walgreens and CVS employees who are administering the vaccine first.


Gaylord News is a reporting project of the University of Oklahoma Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication.