Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe Boosts Community’s Vaccination Rate
In one South Dakota county, state data tells only part of the story about COVID-19 vaccinations. Efforts by the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe have played a big role and don’t show up in the local numbers.
Moody County is a lesson in collaboration when it comes to the coronavirus vaccine and handling the pandemic during the past year.
Avera Flandreau and the Flandreau tribe both play a part in getting residents their shots. They work together in the county’s largest community of about 2,500 people, where neighbors of all races see each other at the grocery store and local events.
Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribal President Tony Reider says protecting tribal members within the community was one of the first goals. The tribe reached out to people who weren’t part of their membership with financial help and offers to deliver groceries if people needed them in order to keep the virus out of places where tribal people could be exposed.
“We thought it was very important to assist the rest of the county. … We’re a community within a community. Interactions are constant daily.”
The results show that out of the county’s 17 Covid deaths, so far, no tribal member in the county has died from the virus.
“A year ago, a lot of us figured half of us might not be here this time, this year. I’m glad it’s not as it was. I think it was great how communities were able to come together and build stronger relationships that will continue to go forward.”
The Tribe was the first in the community to get a shipment of vaccination in December, a supply that has rolled out seamlessly to reservations, the clinic’s CEO Cynthia Jacobs says. But the work started as soon as she heard the word, “pandemic.”
The tribe’s priority was to first vaccinate healthcare workers, Dakota language speakers and elders to protect its future existence. The Flandreau tribe is relatively small with about 280 members locally and 800 worldwide, Reider says.
“Our language speakers are very valuable. They have diminished over time with each passing generation, and the way natives were forced to not speak the language, that took a lot of our culture away.”
At this point, the clinic staff has given more than 1,000 shots and have fully vaccinated more than 600 people, including vaccinations to many who live in the same household as tribal members but aren’t native. The clinic helped vaccinate others in the community, too, including staff at the Flandreau Indian School and more recently, employees at the Royal River Casino.
Those numbers, which aren’t included in state data because they are federally-provided vaccines, mean Moody County has a higher vaccination rate than the 30 percent they are given credit for by the South Dakota Department of Health. State numbers show that in addition to the tribal efforts, another 1,800 people have gotten at least one shot, with nearly 1,400 Moody County residents have completed their vaccinations.
Scott Hargens, administrator at Avera Flandreau, says working together with the tribe has been a blessing.
“To have another local entity in town that is assisting and a part of the inoculation process, as well, I think is just, it’s awesome. It’s just awesome. It’s definitely been very helpful in terms of just having somebody else that’s out there, vaccinating people at the same time, has just been a big win for our small community. “
At this point, finding additional people who want the vaccine is becoming more difficult at both the tribal clinic and for Avera. The tribe is helping reach those who haven’t been able to make an appointment by staffing a FEMA mobile vaccination clinic Sunday and Monday. It is open to anyone.