Vaccination education a top priority at Akwesasne clinics

Published: Jul. 15, 2021 at 6:22 PM EDT
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ST. REGIS MOHAWK RESERVATION, N.Y. (WCAX) - More than 160 million Americans are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, but when you look at the demographics, the BIPOC community lags behind in getting shots, and the CDC reports that less than 1% of Indigenous people are fully vaccinated. That’s why health officials for the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe in northern New York are getting the word out.

It’s been about six weeks since there was a COVID case on the Akwesasne reservation in northern New York, but the vaccination numbers show that less than half of the population is vaccinated, and so vaccination efforts continue. “We would like to see the 70 percent range of vaccines but unfortunately that has not really happened,” said Theresa Gardner, a nurse practitioner with the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe Health Service.

The tribe continues its vaccination efforts, urging people to protect themselves from the fast-spreading delta variant. Gardner’s weekly clinics see an average of 50 shots per clinic and she says the trouble isn’t getting the vaccine, it’s getting the arms to put it in. “We’re out there, outreaching to people, providing rides if they need a ride in,” she said.

Data from the tribe shows that over 55% of the 14,000 people living on both the U.S. and Canadian sides are not vaccinated. The highest percentage of unvaccinated is the under 18 age group. That’s where the focus is now. “July has been a slow month but I think people are starting to think school again, well see it pick up,” Gardener said.

Schools in the area are not requiring the vaccine and Gardner says the mask requirements vary by school district. She says allowing vaccinated students to ditch the masks may sway more youth to get the shot.

“I just want to protect my family and make sure they don’t get sick,” said Joran Terrance, a local 16-year-old who got the shot. “It was a breeze, it was okay.” Terrance and her family had COVID and she and her mother, Lesa, says the choice to get the vaccine was personal.

“We know how this COVID is. My aunt Margaret -- who was actually a chief -- she passed away in April from COVID,” Lesa said.

The 44% vaccination rate on the reservation is higher than the nationwide average for BIPOC communities but not far from the North Country’s rate of 49%. “I think there is always that hesitancy, you know? I think that we try to put a lot of information out there for people,” Gardener said. And with misinformation on the virus and vaccines widespread, she says they’re spending extra time educating the public. “People are always leery of the vaccine, and I can say that we have been very fortunate with any sort of reaction whatsoever.”

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