Vaccine hesitancy among Native Americans is understandable — and deadly

New report shows this demographic is dying younger from COVID-19 than any other race.

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Columnists

October 12, 2021 - 10:01 AM

Registered nurse Robert Orallo administers the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at the Blood Bank of Alaska in Anchorage on March 19, 2021. (Frederic J. Brown/ AFP/Getty Images/TNS)

It is rare these days to find a political message cutting across the usual red-blue partisan divide — but I saw one this weekend. Looking out at me from the back of a pickup truck was a small bumper sticker, featuring an image of a Native American in full headdress, looking stoic and sad. The message read, “Trust the Government.”  

I took the message as sarcastic, telling us “the Government” is not trustworthy due to this country’s sad history of mistreating Native American peoples. The message is a little different from others we hear these days. More often we hear someone condemning critical race theory and vaccines together. Instead, this one relies on our country’s tough history regarding race as a reason to distrust all things related to government. This is an interesting twist, but still terrible advice. In fact, Native Americans need to get vaccinated for COVID right away.

A new report from the Brookings Institution shows the cost of non-vaccination. Titled “American Indians and Alaska Natives are dying of COVID-19 at shocking rates,”  the report points out that among Native Americans, more of the deaths are among the young than among other races. Yet many celebrated elders have died too. These statistics are often hidden because in many states, the American Indian-Alaskan Native population is replaced with an asterisk due to its small size. Brookings researchers dug out the terrible truth: of all ethnicities, the first Americans are the hardest-hit by COVID deaths, as a percentage of population.

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