Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
Nine months after the first COVID-19 cases surfaced on the Navajo Nation, residents have begun to be vaccinated for the disease.
Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla said the vaccines that have been distributed in Navajo clinics and across many countries offer a “ray of hope.”
“All of us at Pfizer are very much aware that the Navajo Nation, and other Native American and Indigenous people were hit particularly hard by this pandemic,” Bourla said during a video update Thursday.
As of Thursday, more than 21,800 people on the reservation have tested positive for COVID-19 and 762 people have died from the virus.
Navajo residents who volunteered for the Pfizer clinical trials helped advance the vaccine development with “unprecedented speed,” Bourla said.
Of the trial’s 463 Native participants, 163 were Navajo and 58 were from the White Mountain Apache reservation. An additional 48 non-Navajo reservation health care workers and residents participated.
Bourla said the participants from diverse backgrounds have helped build public trust in the vaccine and allowed the company to have a “robust set of data” on the shot’s effectiveness.
On Dec. 11, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted emergency use authorization for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.
“We recognize that we couldn’t have done it without courageous and selfless volunteers who raised their hands to participate in our clinical trials,” Bourla said.
The Navajo Area Indian Health Service has distributed 3,900 doses of the vaccine to reservation hospitals and clinics across the reservation.
Vaccines are currently reserved for health care workers and nursing home residents.
People must receive two doses of the Pfizer vaccine 21 days apart for the vaccine to be 95% effective against COVID-19.
“It is essential for people to take the second dose,” Bourla said. “If they don’t take the second dose, we don’t know how long the first will last.”
Even as frontline workers and vulnerable residents receive vaccines, the reservation is battling a second wave of virus cases.
Dr. Laura Hammitt, director of infectious disease prevention programs at Johns Hopkins Center for American Indian Health, said the vaccines offer relief from the pandemic that has brought “much disease and loss” to the reservation. Hammitt’s team helped coordinate the clinical trials on the Navajo Nation.
“I know many providers cried bittersweet tears as they rolled up their sleeves in the past 10 days to get this vaccine and were able to see a light at the end of this tunnel,” Hammitt said.
The Navajo Area Indian Health Service is preparing to receive more vaccine doses from Moderna.