Why American Indians have some of the highest vaccination rates

COVID-19 Vaccine

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Data shows the American Indian demographic has the highest vaccination percentage in the country, and that trend is similar within the 12 federally recognized tribes in Michigan.

“All of them have done an incredible job getting vaccines out to their populations and even to some of the populations outside of their reservations,” Lorna Elliott-Egan, tribal liaison for the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, said.

Because each tribe is its own sovereign nation, she said the state doesn’t have specific vaccination rates, but does work directly with tribal health leaders. 

“We’ve tried very hard to make sure that the tribes have all received the vaccine that they need to have in order to get their populations vaccinated,” Elliott-Egan said. 

Through the Protect Michigan Commission, which was established by the governor to encourage people to get vaccinated, the state has been able to support a number of vaccine clinics in tribal communities and has also helped arrange support from the National Guard for certain clinics. 

As of June 1, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, almost 42% of people who identify as American Indian or Alaska Native across the country have gotten at least one dose of the vaccine. The next highest vaccination rate is among people in the Asian community at 33%. Pacific Islanders are at 32%, Caucasians are at 31.6%, and the two populations with the lowest vaccine rates are Blacks and Hispanics at 22.8% and 26.1%, respectively.

Elliot-Egan believes the higher percentage within the indigenous American community has a lot to do with trust. 

“When a tribal health director or tribal leader comes out and says, ‘Please get vaccinated, protect your family, protect your auntie, protect your grandma,’ they go out and they get their vaccines,” she said.

But like most other racial and ethnic groups, there are still some challenges, like getting younger people to take the shot. MDHHS says it is working with tribal health leaders to address that, finding ways to educate people with signage. It is even working to create a traditional healing drum song video to put on YouTube to increase interest among youth. 

“We need to work together as partners,” Elliott-Egan said. “I think we’re trying to do a better job of that lately and over the years that I’ve been doing this, we’ve done a little bit better every year, trying to build our relationships and trying to support them in any way that we’re able to. We really want to see their population’s health protected, and you know, they do a great job on their own.”

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