FORT BELKNAP, Mont. (NMB) – Acting Indian Health Service Director Elizabeth Fowler paid a visit to Fort Belknap on Tuesday to discuss the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccines on the Reservation.
“We’re shifting our focus, so we’re going to start putting more effort in hard to reach areas and those who are struggling with vaccine hesitancy over the next couple of months.”
Fort Belknap Service Unit CEO Jessica Windy Boy says she believes prioritizing teachers and elders for early vaccinations may have saved lives when several schools in the area recently had outbreaks.
“A lot of the teachers had their first vaccine on board by that time. I truly believe that that saved lives. Because the intensity of the disease was not as bad, as they had some immunities built up in their system by the time that they (had it). We did have some positives that happened from that, but they didn’t experience… And we had people who had complicating health factors that pulled through, which is fantastic. So I truly believe that by having the vaccine, it has saved lives. Especially with our most vulnerable population, our elders.”
It has been about a month since Fort Belknap has opened up vaccine eligibility to the entire general public, and Public Health Nurse Cindy LaMere says she’s witnessed people drive to the Agency from as far as Belgrade just to get vaccinated.
“They were so thankful that we opened it up to them. (One person) were 60-years-old, and Belgrade hadn’t (opened up eligibility to that group) at that time. They came back for their booster just the other day and she brought her husband who was a little bit younger, so he was able to get vaccinated.”
According to the latest data, 60 percent of all Reservation residents at least 18 years of age have already been vaccinated. Around 20 percent of 16 and 17 year old residents have been vaccinated, but that number is expected to increase substantially as they work to provide Pfizer vaccines to high school students in the area. The Pfizer vaccine is the only vaccine currently authorized for 16 and 17-year-olds, and must be stored at extremely cold temperatures.
Since other local communities do not have the Pfizer vaccine, Fort Belknap is helping provide them for clinics for high school students, including the one taking place in Havre this week.