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Vaccine aims to protect health of Navajo people and their culture

Posted at 6:56 PM, Feb 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-04 08:44:05-05

MONTEZUMA CREEK, Utah — The urgency to get COVID-19 vaccine doses into the arms of the Navajo people is to protect not only their health, but their culture.

Since late December, the Utah Navajo Health System, which covers a slice of San Juan County, along the border of Arizona and the Four Corners area, has vaccinated 45% of their elderly residents.

READ: Tribes try to shield elders and their knowledge from virus

In the coming weeks, more mass vaccinations are scheduled for Montezuma Creek and Monument Valley.

“We hope with this batch to get well over 50% of our elderly population vaccinated then with the next batch, get even higher with 80%,” said Byron Clarke, Chief Operations Officer, Utah Navajo Health System.

Getting the older adults vaccinated first is paramount. The pandemic has taken many of their lives.

“Everybody knows someone who’s personally passed away from it, said Clarke. “It’s not just statistics.”

With each death, a vital part of history is erased.

“A lot of those individuals 65 and over category know the history, know the culture, know our ways of teaching and of course our language,” said Navajo Nation President Jonathon Nez.

READ: Nonprofit groups hosting coat drives for members of Utah's Navajo population

Yikanee Bah Sampson, heads the nursing department for UHS.

“It’s painful to think about it.”

Her team of nurses at Montezuma Creek Health Center have dealt with loss at work and at home.

“They’re also taking time off work taking care of their family members taking care of Covid or taking time off for funerals.”

Through the hardships, healthcare workers believe their people can fight this pandemic and this vaccination is the first step.

“There’s definitely a lot more hope going around, but it’s still tough as people still pass away,” Clarke said. “It’s a very long-term sickness.”