DETROIT LAKES, Minn. — Residents of Becker, Norman and Clearwater counties who are over age 45 are among those eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccinations at clinics held in various locations on the White Earth Reservation this week, March 1-5, according to a message posted on the White Earth Nation Facebook page late last week.
This week's vaccinations mark the third week White Earth Tribal Health has expanded its vaccine eligibility requirements to include neighboring counties.
"Our philosophy is, we want to protect everyone within the boundaries of the White Earth Reservation," explained Ed Snetsinger, White Earth emergency services manager. "We have some families that are both tribal and nontribal, so we have to serve the population as a whole."
As of Thursday, Feb. 25, the White Earth Home Health department had administered a total of 5,837 first doses of the Moderna vaccine, along with 1,790 second doses, according to Snetsinger.
The clinics will continue for as long as the department has sufficient doses of the vaccine to make them available to the public in this fashion, he added.
"Our allotment (of vaccine) comes strictly through the state of Minnesota," Snetsinger said, explaining that the Minnesota Department of Health had prioritized getting the vaccine out to reservations across the state after a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study that found Native Americans are more vulnerable to the potentially deadly effects of the virus than other ethnic populations.
The vaccinations don't require an appointment, and are being administered on a walk-in-only basis — due in part to the fluctuating nature of the vaccines' availability.
"It's hard to schedule anything until you get the allotment of vaccines each week, so it’s a pretty fluid situation," Snetsinger explained. The tribe is using its social media pages to communicate any scheduling changes.
Word of mouth has also proved to be quite effective in getting the information out to the public, if the people attending the Feb. 25 clinic in Mahnomen, Minn., were any indication.
"Our neighbor called us — I think they got it (the information) off of Facebook," said Detroit Lakes resident Robert Norman, who came with his wife, Lyn, to get their first dose of the vaccine together.
Because neither of them is in the 65-and-older age bracket that has been given the highest priority for receiving the vaccine, they hadn't thought about checking out options closer to home, Robert noted. "We didn't want to take vaccine from anyone who really needed it," he said.
"But we decided that if it was made available to us, why not take advantage of it?" Lyn said, adding that they would eventually have been vaccinated anyway.
"We saw it on a Facebook post," said Jess Zacharias of Richville, Minn., who came to the Mahnomen clinic with her husband also. "It wasn't available in our area, but because we own land up here and work here — we own a car crushing company — they told us we were eligible."
Another couple, Jesse Fabre and Karen Mikish, came all the way from their Moorhead, Minn., home to get the vaccine in Mahnomen Feb. 25.
"He's (Jesse) an enrolled member of the tribe, so when a friend of mine shared it (the clinic information) on Facebook, we decided to come," Mikish said.
Greg Strommen, another White Earth tribal descendant who lives in Barnesville, Minn., heard about the Mahnomen clinic from a friend who lives in Norman County.
"I didn't want to take the place of anyone who needed it (the vaccine), so I called and asked," Strommen said. "But they said they had plenty, so I came here."
Rochert, Minn., resident Mindy Lybeck's husband is a first responder and works at the Shooting Star Casino in Mahnomen. She said that she had some health concerns that led her to come to Mahnomen for the clinic.
"I signed up for the clinic at Essentia, and they said they would call (when an appointment was available), but my husband has been really wanting me to get it done," she said, adding that he had been one of the tribe's early recipients of the vaccine due to his status as an first responder. "I'm 65 and have some underlying health conditions, so it was a concern."
Vaccination requirements have changed slightly
During the first week that White Earth was offering the expanded clinics, the vaccination sites allowed all residents of Becker, Mahnomen, Norman and Clearwater counties over the age of 18 to be vaccinated. That led to long lines, particularly at the old Mahnomen Shopko building where people were lined up far into the parking lot outside the building.
Last week, the age requirement was changed to neighboring county residents over age 45, as well as those age 18 and up who meet the following eligibility requirements:
- Individuals who live, work, or own property on the White Earth Reservation.
- White Earth Tribal members, enrolled or descendants.
- Family members in the same household as White Earth Tribal members, enrolled or descendants.
Individuals with underlying medical conditions that are risk factors for severe COVID-19 illness (e.g. asthma, COPD, cystic fibrosis, serious heart disease, cancer, chronic kidney disease/kidney failure, sickle cell disease, Type-2 diabetes, obesity, immunocompromised due to solid organ transplant or HIV/AIDS).
A list of the new eligibility requirements was displayed outside the Mahnomen Shopko building.
Individuals prohibited from receiving the vaccine are those who have tested positive for COVID-19. COVID-positive individuals must meet all criteria to discontinue isolation before any vaccine is administered. Those under quarantine protocol due to a recent exposure must complete the full quarantine procedure and not be exhibiting any symptoms.
Also, any individuals feeling sick or running a fever must wait until the symptoms subside without the assistance of medication, and any individuals who have received other vaccines within the last 14 days must wait two weeks before receiving the COVID-19 vaccine.
Snetsinger noted Monday, March 1, that some more offerings of first-dose clinics could be added this week, depending on the allotment of vaccines that the tribe receives — but the clinics have already had a notable effect on vaccination rates in the counties that were included.
"In Mahnomen County, 36% of the population has received one dose, and 21.5% have received the second dose," he said, adding that a whopping 89.2% of Mahnomen County residents age 65 and older have been vaccinated, as of Feb. 25 — which currently is the highest vaccination rate in the state of Minnesota.
"Becker County is at 23.3% vaccinated (with 10.6% having received the second dose), while Norman County is at just about 27%, and Clearwater is at about 19%," Snetsinger said, adding that the state average is currently at 16.2% for those receiving at least one dose, and 8.4% having received the second dose.
"Those are some good numbers," he said, adding that it was "reassuring" to see so many people in this area of the state have an opportunity to be vaccinated.
For more information and updates, visit www.facebook.com/WhiteEarthNation.