Minnesota Tribe Reflects Major Vaccination Effort

Almost six months after the Leech Lake vaccine distribution began, the unsung heroes have reflected on the process.

The Leech Lake vaccine staff might not call themselves heroes – but the community certainly seems to think so. The team was struck with gratitude, requests for hugs, kind notes, pastries and happy dancing after the fact.

“We have received thank you cards and emails from people, we have had people crying, for joy or relief,” noted one vaccinator.

While this is appreciated, what they really want is more people to take the vaccine. In mid-April, demand for the shot stagnated.

A stellar staff

More than 20 members of the COVID-19 vaccination team gathered in Leech Lake on May 5 – including Indian Health Service (IHS) and Leech Lake Tribal employees, nurses and others – to reflect on what they had accomplished in the past month.

The team was made up of people who were willing and able to relinquish their “normal roles” on Tuesdays and Fridays – many had not worked together much before, as some were new to their roles, others from the IHS side. or the tribal side or vice versa.

Meghan Paquette, director of nursing, said she hoped the staff would be recognized for their work, as they were often behind the scenes day in and day out.

Team members described typical vaccination events – which typically took place in gyms or the Leech Lake Boys and Girls Club – the process was strategic in getting people moving quickly and safe from the spread of the disease. COVID.

Staff members recognized the ingenuity in the form of different colored papers and different syringes on days when different types of vaccines were available.

Many people who reflect on vaccination events have said that the most memorable part was being able to help so many people. Staff said they had nothing to compare the experience of running these massive vaccination clinics to – other than this season’s COVID-19 testing events and flu vaccination events.

Some said it had become something they looked forward to every week. They expressed a feeling of being part of history.

“I did the tour and especially I have everyone’s signature because it’s a bit like that, it’s our team. It’s kind of a moment in history we’re all aware of, ”said vaccinator Josh Red Day.

Staff recalled the first vaccination event which was open to surrounding communities, not just tribal members. Lines of people waiting to be vaccinated stretched around the block.

For a while, with each event, more people came, and the vaccinators got faster and more efficient. It only improved when people came back for the second doses as the participants were familiar with the exercise.

“Our first day when we thought, ‘Wow, what a great day,’ we vaccinated a few hundred,” said Hannah Tolman, member of the immunization team. “Oh my God, we made a couple hundred people. ”

Soon they blew him out of the water, with their largest vaccination event inoculating about 1,300 people in five hours.

Team members described the busy days of immunization as going from ‘hazy’ to ‘manageable chaos’.

“The day we did 1,200 was crazy, after that everything else was just a snap,” said a team member. “It was nice to hear the community and the people there for their photos notice how well it worked. Many people have commented on this. ”

Team members said they were hopeful after receiving their own vaccines, which they administered to each other. Staff said it was helpful to receive them, to be able to advise and reassure patients.

“People were asking what could or was going to happen after the gunshot, and we had experiences,” one recalls.

Staff said that aside from anxiety-induced responses, there had been no on-site adverse reactions to the vaccine and almost no wasted doses.

The team said they’ve never seen people so excited to take a photo – many said people take selfies, ask for hugs, say ‘thank you’ and get dressed.

“It’s a great group. They put it all on the line, ”Leech Lake Acting Director of Health Vince Rock said of the vaccination team, noting that six of them contracted COVID-19 while on the job. for the tribe, but they all got well.

These vaccine champions are so effective that a group of them have been drafted to help distribute COVID-19 vaccines in Michigan, just returning to Minnesota this week.

Vaccine schedule

Rock described the progress of the vaccination initiative in the region. The period between December and May was marked by rapid changes.

“In mid-December, we received our first doses of Pfizer and we had a prayer ceremony,” Rock said. “We were the first Native American reserve to receive the vaccine, and then we got a big dose right from the start. I think we’ve had over 1,300 doses of Pfizer.

He said the first populations to receive these vaccines were the sick, the elderly and health workers.

According to the Leech Lake News, Cass Lake IHS received 195 vials of the Pfizer vaccine, which is sufficient for 975 doses, on December 14.

Of all the IHS facilities across the country, why was Leech Lake chosen to receive the vaccine first? This is a question that no one seems to be able to answer for sure – but the vaccination team and Rock said this was potentially due to the machine flu vaccine rollout at Leech Lake and their careful planning and training prior to vaccine distribution. .

Melissa Perkins, a rotating pharmacy student at Cass Lake Hospital, hands a syringe of the COVID-19 Pfizer vaccine to Indian Health Services pharmacist Lieutenant John Naegeli, who administered all 10 vaccines on December 14, 2020 at the hospital from Cass Lake.  (Annalize Braught / Bemidji Pioneer)

Melissa Perkins, a rotating pharmacy student at Cass Lake Hospital, hands a syringe of the COVID-19 Pfizer vaccine to Indian Health Services pharmacist Lieutenant John Naegeli, who administered all 10 vaccines on December 14, 2020 at the hospital from Cass Lake. (Annalize Braught / Bemidji Pioneer)

“Right after that, it might have been January 1, when we had the drought,” Rock recalls. “Suddenly the vaccines hadn’t been there for maybe a month. We are starting to worry a bit.

February has arrived, along with other vaccines. Moderna vaccines became available and Leech Lake found that there was a little more on hand. Rock said that was when the tribe started offering vaccines to schools in the area.

“We realized that a lot of our native kids were going to schools on the edge of the reserves – Deer River, Walker and Bemidji, (and we realized) that we had to share with them and it all started from there, all from there. suddenly, you know, we had extra doses available and we didn’t want them to be wasted. They can’t sit on the shelf, ”he said. “We invited anyone who was following state guidelines at the time to come and share with them. It just blossomed from there and people were very grateful.

Many of those who were vaccinated in Leech Lake received

Many of those who were vaccinated in Leech Lake received “I got my vaccine from the Leech Lake Ojibwe Band” stickers. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

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