More than half of the adult members of Navajo Nation have been vaccinated against COVID-19, according to a press release.
The 300,000-member strong community has surpassed the general rate of vaccination in the United States, which stands at around 36.5%, according to the CDC. The Navajo Nation’s accelerated effort to achieve COVID-19 immunity stems in part from its struggles with the virus last year. At one point, the tribe had the highest per-capita rate of COVID-19 infections in the country.
“The pandemic has led to many challenges, but it is also making us stronger and giving us renewed appreciation for our blessings in life,” Myron Lizer, vice president of Navajo Nation, said in the press release. “We have to continue to pray for more strength every day and keep supporting one another. We are in this together and we are overcoming this pandemic day by day.”
The Navajo Nation’s vaccination program gained early community support because of the devastating toll the virus took on its members, according to the New York Times.
The rampant spread of the virus highlighted inequalities that exist across the territory, including a lack of health care facilities, clean water access, and electricity access. Because many homes lacked reliable access to water, stringent hygiene protocols were often difficult to maintain.
These structural inequalities were worsened by delays in federal relief funding.
Now, however, an additional $31 billion has been allocated to tribal nations on top of the first round of emergency aid. Part of this money has been used to fund the vaccination effort, which has taken a multipronged approach.
The tribal government coordinated a public outreach campaign to ensure tribal members knew what to expect with the vaccine and could ask questions. This campaign also communicated where and when vaccines would be given.
There are 12 primary health centers scattered throughout Navajo Nation that serve as key vaccination sites. Other large-scale facilities such as casinos have become vaccine sites as well. Health workers are also conducting at-home vaccinations to reach elderly residents and those who are unable to drive, according to Navajo Times.
The Navajo Nation enacted strict policies around in-person events and movement in general following the peak of infections. Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said on Sunday that these restrictions would be gradually relaxed.
But he warned that the threat of COVID-19 has not gone away just yet.
“We have to keep taking all precautions and keep pushing back on the virus by staying home as much as possible, avoiding large in-erson gatherings, wearing a mask, practicing social distancing, and washing your hands often,” Nez said. “Over half of the adult population on the Navajo Nation has been vaccinated, but to reach herd immunity, we need more people to get vaccinated.”