COVID vaccinations in the Osage Nation

Last year, I wrote about how, during the COVID-19 epidemic, we risked repeating some of the nation’s historical injustices and abuses toward Native Americans, usually taking the form of unwarranted interference and active harm. At the time, Native Americans had case and death rates that were equivalent or worse than the rates of disease and death we saw unfolding in New York earlier in 2020. Unfortunately, mortality rates for Native Americans continue to be higher than for any other ethnic group, and vaccination remains a top priority.

One tribe, the Osage Nation in Oklahoma, has taken matters into their own hands to bring the epidemic under control by vaccinating every member above the age of 18 rather than adhering to the federal government’s recommendations for a strict age-based system. Some elders remain reluctant to take the vaccine, so the tribe is shifting to a community-based approach that will attempt to reduce the general prevalence in the population in the hope that by reducing COVID-19 generally these elders will still benefit from an overall healthier population.

This strategy is worth watching for the entire country. A number of experts, including AEI’s own Scott Gottlieb, have warned that over the next few months we’ll shift from a supply shortage to a demand shortage as we run out of willing vaccination recipients. The Osage Nation outcomes may be able to tell us something about how the virus responds under “not quite herd immunity” conditions and whether this type of community vaccination campaign can help overcome unwarranted worries among the hesitant.