Health

Indian health service ramps up COVID, other vaccine attempts

PHOENIX (AP) — India’s health department announced Thursday that all tribal members covered by the federal agency will receive a vaccine as needed at every appointment, under a new vaccine strategy.

During the coronavirus pandemic, American Indians and Alaska Natives have had some of the highest COVID-19 vaccination rates nationwide.

But Indigenous peoples are particularly vulnerable to vaccine-preventable diseases, and IHS officials recently noticed fewer patients receiving vaccines against COVID-19. Monkeypox is now an additional health concern.

Patients in the system are also starting to fall behind on more routine immunizations, such as shots for childhood diseases such as measles, mumps and rubella, as well as shingles injections for older adults.

“As time goes on, we’re seeing some COVID fatigue and we feel like we’re not where we need to be,” said Dr. Loretta Christensen, IHS chief medical officer, in a short interview before the announcement was posted online. “With our vulnerable population, it is critical to re-energize our workforce to get everyone the vaccines they need.”

Christensen said in a posted announcement that she had directed all healthcare sites in the system “to respond to this important call to action to increase vaccine coverage and protect against vaccine-preventable disease in tribal communities.”

“Every patient at every meeting will be offered every recommended vaccine if needed.” she wrote. “IHS will exclude encounters where a vaccine would not be appropriate, such as when someone has a moderate or severe acute illness.”

Christensen told agency staff in an additional message that she encouraged everyone to get an updated COVID-19 and flu shot as winter approaches.

“We can work together to protect our friends, relatives, the elderly and our communities as we gather across the country for the holiday season,” she said.

The Indian Health Service is the health care system for federally recognized American Indians and Alaska Natives in the United States.

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