As vaccines arrive, COVID-19 precautions remain in place


Vaccine will not bring a quick end to the coronavirus pandemic

Band members are being asked to remain vigilant in their personal fight against COVID-19, even as the hope of a vaccine gives a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.

The first doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine began arriving on the reservation December 15. The Mille Lacs Band Health and Human Services department, including Public Health and clinical staff, were able to administer 165 doses by Monday, December 21, when this issue of Ojibwe Inaajimowin went to press.

Vaccines will go first to our Elders in assisted living units and then to Elders with the most compromised immune systems, followed by front-line health care staff. Watch Facebook and for updates.

When more vaccinations become available, HHS will continue to administer the vaccinations to Band members, staff, and community members.

All 574 federally recognized American Indian tribal governments had the choice of getting vaccines from either the state they share geographic boundaries with or from the federal government through the Indian Health Services (IHS), which is an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that is charged with providing health care programs and funding to tribal governments across the nation.

The Mille Lacs Band chose to get its COVID-19 vaccine from IHS. Every Indian tribal government that opted to receive their federal allocation of the vaccine through IHS received vaccines about the same time as the Mille Lacs Band did.

No silver bullet

Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, head of the World Health Organization, said last month, "A vaccine on its own will not end the pandemic."

With a limited supply of vaccine for now, Tedros said that health workers, older people, and other at-risk populations will be prioritized. This should relieve pressure on healthcare systems and reduce deaths, but Tedros warned that "the virus will still have a lot (of) room to move."

The recent leveling off of cases in Minnesota shows that precautions work. When cases began to spike, Governor Tim Walz adopted a "Dial Back" plan designed to reduce the spread of the disease in bars and restaurants. In the days following, the number of new cases began to decline.

Results in other countries also show that these precautions work to reduce the spread of the virus.

Consider these facts before going back to normal routines:

The worst surge may be yet to come. The holiday season will result in hundreds of thousands of infections and thousands of deaths. Millions of Americans have traveled by plane and spent time in large family gatherings. Many will die before they are able to be vaccinated.

Some may refuse the vaccine. Misinformation about the dangers of vaccines is rampant on social media. As a result, the coronavirus will continue to find hosts, and outbreaks will continue for months or even years.

Some may become complacent. The existence of a vaccine will cause many to go back to their pre-pandemic routines, giving the virus more opportunities to spread.

The fact is that the pandemic would have been far less destructive if people had followed a few simple precautions: wearing masks, social distancing, staying home, washing hands, and limiting contacts with those from other households. And the fact remains that the pandemic will end sooner — with less sickness and death — if people continue to follow those same guidelines.

The math is simple. More exposure means more cases. More cases mean more death and a longer pandemic.
Less exposure means fewer cases and fewer outbreaks. Fewer outbreaks and infections mean contact tracing and quarantining can have a greater effect until eventually the occasional small outbreak is kept under control, and eventually life can return to normal.

The key word is "eventually." We’re not there yet. Please remain vigilant for our Elders and our communities.