Tribal leaders highlight importance of COVID-19 vaccine for children at Anadarko Indian Health Center

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ANADARKO, Okla. (KFOR) – As the COVID-19 vaccine now becomes available to children 5 – 11, local tribes are now stressing the importance to vaccinate to keep their communities safe.

State tribal and health leaders gathered at the Indian Health Services facility in Anadarko to encourage Native Oklahomans to get the shot. They’re optimistic about this new ability to vaccinate more within the community, but they’re also reflecting on all of the native members that have already passed.

“We’ve been devastated as a community,” said Caddo Nation Chairman Bobby Gonzalez. “Many of us are still coming with the terms of the overwhelming loss.”

Native Americans and Alaska Natives across the country have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. They have higher COVID infection and hospitalization rates and higher rates of mortality at younger ages than non-Hispanic White Americans.

Unfortunately, many tribes across Oklahoma have already lost countless community figures.

“We lost a lot of our people in our native community our elders so we’re trying to prevent that,” said mother Kourtney Quoetone, whose daughter got her first dose of the vaccine on Monday. “She has an 89-year-old grandfather that we help take care of and her getting vaccinated and everything, it’s a lot safer to be around him.”

And with those losses say they also lose part of their culture.

“Our tribal elders, they’re very critical to us for our language preservation,” said mother Julia Woodard. “We know in vaccinating, we can protect them as well and also ourselves.”

“[We’ve lost ] irreplaceable knowledge in our language and tradition,” Gonzalez said. “And culture that passes with that.”

Now, children like 11-year-old Kylee Robedeax say they want to prevent any future losses by doing their part.

“Everybody in my house has the vaccine except me and my little siblings,” she said. “I just really want to protect them and others.”

She says she was looking forward to today after finding out she was eligible.

“I wasn’t afraid, I was actually excited,” she said. “I’ve been counting down the days and minutes, for the past week.”

To date, more than 440,000 COVID vaccines have been given to adults and adolescents within the IHS Oklahoma City Area.

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