ANADARKO — Shane Doyebi sat stoically as a nurse jabbed him with his first dose of the pediatric COVID-19 vaccine.
As he sat waiting for the all-clear from health personnel inside the Anadarko Indian Health Center, the 10-year-old Anadarko resident and Comanche citizen said it didn’t hurt at all. He said that while his grandmother, a Cheyenne-Arapaho citizen, made him go Monday, he also had his reasons.
“I don’t want to get the COVID-19,” he said.
He said he knows other children who have gotten sick from the virus, and it wasn’t much fun.
Doyebi was among the first indigenous children in the state to receive the COVID-19 vaccine as top federal Indian health official stopped in the state Monday to observe vaccination efforts and to promote the Pfizer vaccine now that it’s approved for use in children ages 5 to 11. Advocates said nearly 375,000 Oklahoma children are now eligible, including tens of thousands of Native American youth.
Elizabeth Fowler, acting director of the federal Indian Health Service, said the agency plans to distribute COVID-19 pediatric vaccine in different waves to IHS clinics nationwide.She also said all IHS locations will have it available within the next two weeks. Fowler is touring the country in hopes of urging more parents to get their children vaccinated as soon as possible. She said she also wants to counter vaccine misinformation and increase uptake rates among Native adults and adolescents who haven’t gotten vaccinated.
She said nearly 1.7 million vaccines have been administered to adults and adolescents across Indian Country. Nearly a quarter have been administered in just three states — Oklahoma, Texas and Kansas, according to federal statistics. More than 52% of American Indian and Alaska native adults are fully vaccinated, she said.
Fowler said American Indians and Alaska Natives have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19. Statistics show they are 3.5 times more likely to get COVID-19, to be hospitalized and to die from it, she said.
Bobby Gonzalez, Caddo Nation chair, said his own granddaughter caught COVID-19 from a school teacher. His sister also contracted COVID-19 after her grandson brought it home. His sister survived for a month, but ultimately died. He said it was a devastating loss.
“I think everybody knows that this community has seen firsthand the devastating effects of COVID-19,” he said. “We’re 19 months into the pandemic, and many of us are still (coming to terms with) overwhelming loss related to our families, our friends, irreplaceable knowledge and our language and tradition and culture that passes with that.”
“It’s important that all our children are able to return to school and social events and traditional customs that we have,” Gonzalez said, urging vaccinations.
Terri Parton, president of the Wichita and Affiliated Tribes, and chair of the southwest Oklahoma Indian Health Board, admitted she hesitated about getting vaccinated. She didn’t get vaccinated until September after her 15-year-old nephew tested positive and a nurse talked her into it.
“It’s just my faith and just being busy and having to stay strong as a tribal leader to make sure that your people were taken care of and stuff,” Parton said about postponing the shot. She’s now become an advocate for vaccinations.
Glen Kernell drove more than an hour from their Oklahoma City home so that his two 8 year olds could be among the first in the state to receive their COVID-19 vaccines. Kernell, who is Seminole and Muscogee, said he’s long come to the Anadarko health center for care and just two weeks ago received his COVID-19 booster shot in the same location that his children received their shots.
“As a parent, I am very excited that we have this opportunity now to get our children vaccinated,” he said. “We’ve been very anxious over the past 11 months, thinking about it since the first rollout of the vaccine. There’s been some anxiety there because the older folks, we’ve gotten our shots, but our children can now have a little bit of extra kind of a safety net now that they’ve received theirs, so we’re excited.”
Janelle Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.