In May 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced on Twitter that its COVID-19 data tracker now displays U.S. vaccination progress by race and ethnicity. The tracker, “Percent of People Receiving COVID-19 Vaccine by Race/Ethnicity and Date Reported to CDC, United States,” showed that as of July 6, American Indians and Alaska Natives have the highest vaccination rate in the country, with 45.5 percent having received at least one dose and 39.1 percent fully vaccinated.
This is especially impressive as the U.S. Native population had more than 3.5 times the infection rate, more than four times the hospitalization rate, and a higher mortality rate than white Americans, reports the Indian Health Service (IHS), a federal health program for American Indians and Alaska Natives. Official data reveal that the Navajo Nation, the largest tribe in the U.S., has been one of the hardest-hit populations, reporting one of the country’s highest per-capita COVID-19 infection rates in May 2020, the Navajo Times reports.
From the beginning, American Indians and Alaska Natives were being hospitalized and dying from COVID-19 at a higher rate than any other racial group in America throughout the pandemic. Now, American Indian and Alaska Native vaccination rates are higher than white vaccination rates in 28 states, including New Mexico, Arizona, and Alaska, where many Indigenous people receive care from tribal health centers and the Indian Health Service (IHS) Connecticut News Project’s CT Mirror reports. In states like South Carolina and Tennessee, however, vaccination rates have been far lower for American Indians and Alaska Natives than for white Americans.
In the American COVID-19 Vaccine Poll, a new national survey focused on overcoming obstacles to full and equitable vaccination coverage, 43 percent of American Indians who are not vaccinated report that they do not plan to get a vaccine, higher than any other racial or ethnic group in the survey. Nearly half (47.4 percent) of unvaccinated American Indians reported that they would prefer to get a vaccine at their doctor’s office. The other most-cited locations were at a hospital (24.0 percent) or a community health clinic (13.1 percent). The survey also highlights that 13 percent of the unvaccinated population cite socioeconomic reasons for not getting the vaccine, including not having transportation or not having time to get a vaccine.
The successes of Native American LifeLines, Native Health Central, and other organizations’ vaccine campaigns, and the CDC’s vaccination rate data, counter longstanding assumptions about vaccine hesitancy in Native communities — assumptions that were already disproven in January by the results of a survey conducted in urban Indigenous communities. The survey, issued by the Urban Indian Health Institute (UIHI), involved nearly 1,500 American Indians and Alaska Natives representing 318 tribes across 46 states. Seventy-four percent of those surveyed said they’d be willing to be vaccinated against SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Many cited having a “strong sense of responsibility to protect the Native community and cultural ways,” as their primary motivation to get vaccinated, the UIHI reports on its website.