As vaccinations roll out across the country, tribal nations are doing particularly well. Antonia Gonzales with New Mexico PBS recently spoke with Dr. Anthony Fauci about efforts in Indian Country and what lessons the rest of the country might learn.
Antonia Gonzales: We know that COVID-19 has hit Indian Country hard. But right now many tribal nations across the country are outpacing other communities. When it comes to administering COVID-19 vaccinations, the Navajo Nation exceeded goals of administering 100,000 doses by the end of February. What can we learn about how tribal nations are vaccinating their populations?
Dr. Fauci: They're doing something right. And I think that what we need to do is set that as an example and keep it up. What you have is, I guess, the community spirit among the tribal nations are such that when you have something that you realize is important for your health, for that of your family, and for that of your community. I know it's a close knit community. So perhaps that's one of the reasons why when something as lifesaving as a vaccine comes along, the uptake of it is very smooth and very efficient. So in that respect, I think the rest of the country might learn a lesson from how things have gone with the tribal nations.
Antonia Gonzales: And it's no secret that there's a lot of mistrust of the federal government among many people in tribal communities across the United States. But tribal leaders, health care professionals, other trusted members of tribal communities have really been a part of doing vaccine acceptance, how has this benefited American Indian and Alaska Native people?
Dr. Fauci: Very much. So I mean, we have found out not only with COVID-19, but with other interventions in which you want a minority community, a community that has generally been underserved, and a community that has good reason for skepticism. Because anyone who is realistic and looks at the truth, there's no secret that the tribal nations have not historically been treated well by various federal agencies. Hopefully, that's gotten better in recent times. But I think the corporate memory of the elders to the younger people, is that there's this mistrust. And I think when you get trusted members of the community to examine the data, look at it and say, you know, this is a safe and efficacious vaccine. And it's for that reason that we try to partner with the leaders of the tribal nations, and set by example,
Antonia Gonzales: and right now, tribes have the option of either getting vaccine distribution through the Indian Health Service, or working with states. We heard the news about Johnson and Johnson now being approved, will tribal nations be able to get single use doses like that vaccine?
Dr. Fauci: The answer is yes. Because I just have been in consultation with our medical team, it will be equitably distributed. It's based on population per state. And then when you get tribal nations the same mechanism that got the Moderna and the Pfizer, two, you will get the J and J.
Antonia Gonzales: Dr. Fauci you have praised tribal nations for their fight of COVID-19. tribes have been some of the toughest measures when it comes to emergency response, including math mandates, lock downs, curfews, a lot of tough decisions tribal leaders have made, what can the country learn from that? Or is it a little too late?
Dr. Fauci: Well, it's never too late. And Tony, I think the country can listen to the fact that what you do need is to have a close cooperation and collaboration between the leaders in this sense the federal government, and the local states and cities, that when you have that synergy, cooperation and collaboration, things get done very well, when the tribal leaders say this is good for their citizens, for members of the tribal nation. It is the custom and the tradition, that one listens to the tribal leaders. And that's the reason why it has been so smooth when the tribal leaders have decided that this is good for the health of the individual, the family and the community that there has been very good uptake of vaccine by the tribal nation.
Antonia Gonzales: Dr. Anthony Fauci, thank you so much for joining us here today on New Mexico. infocus.
Dr. Fauci: Thank you very much. It's my pleasure being with you.
That was Antonia Gonzales with New Mexico PBS speaking to Dr. Anthony Fauci. You can watch the full interview on NEW MEXICO IN FOCUS, Friday evening / tonight at 7pm on N-M--P-B-S.
Your New Mexico Government is a collaboration between KUNM, New Mexico PBS, and the Santa Fe Reporter. Funding for our coverage comes from the New Mexico Local News Fund, the Kellogg Foundation and KUNM listeners like you, with support for public media provided by the Thornburg Foundation.