ARLEE — The Flathead Nation Tribal Health Department began vaccinating the 5- to 11-year-old age group the second week of November. Of the initial 300 10 mg pediatric doses of the Pfizer vaccine— the adult dose is 30 mg — THD had about 30 doses left on Friday when they began vaccinating the younger students at Nk̓ʷusm Salish Language School.
Tribal Health Department Community Health Director Tammy Matt said the initial COVID vaccine roll out of the 5- to 11-year-old age group didn’t go well in the Arlee area. There were under 20 inoculations there on the first day in the Jocko Valley area on Nov. 9, at the Arlee Community Center.
Despite that Matt said there was a rainbow under that initial turnout cloud at its roving clinic in Arlee as more youngsters are getting vaccinated reservation wide. More is preferrable but a victory, no matter how small, is still a victory.
Tribal Health is providing COVID vaccinations at its roving inoculation clinics until the end of the year to the public including non-THD beneficiaries at no cost. After that the THD beneficiaries can get vaccinated at the THD clinics in St. Ignatius, Ronan and Polson. The reason for ending the roaming mass vaccination clinics is the drop in attendance, and the cost of staffing the low turnouts.
“When we first started, we had up to 300 vaccinations a day but then the numbers began to drop at the mass clinics to the point that it’s costing too much in staffing,” said Kriss Murphy, THD Community Health nurse. “Now all (public) pharmacies are providing vaccinations with the goal of getting as many people as possible vaccinated at times and locations that are convenient to them.”
Tribal Health is now providing COVID vaccinations for everyone 5 years old and up — the 12-year-old and up age group gets the adult dosage, as well as booster shots for those who have already received the initial dosages. Tribal Health is also recommending and providing flu vaccinations at its clinics.
Lake County presently ranks sixth place in county vaccination rates at 63 percent.
“The reason Lake County is at 63 percent is due to Tribal Health and the Lake County Public Health Department working together to get as many people vaccinated,” Murphy said. “People are thankful we are doing this, that we are trying to take care of everybody, so everyone is protected against the virus.”
It is the kind of protection that Shanna White wanted for her three young ones — Jesse, 9, Wylie, 6, and Racee, 3 — who attend Nk̓ʷusm.
“I am thankful that if anything does happen, they are protected,” Shanna said. “And I’m thankful that Tribal Health and Nk̓ʷusm set this up. This is not a scary setting.”
Although not a scary setting, the emotions of the youngsters getting vaccinated ranged from scared to stoic prior to the shot, then a bit of whimper and stoic after the shot.
The bottom line in the THD COVID vaccination effort is that individual vaccinations not only provide protection for the vaccinated but also provide protection for those they encounter including the non-vaccinated. The ultimate goal is to vaccinate the non-vaccinated so they too, can be protected and by extension protect those around them.