Shipment term

Navajo Nation awaits first shipment of monkeypox vaccine

The Navajo Nation has yet to report any cases of monkeypox, but the tribe has activated its preparedness team and asked the White House to prioritize Native American communities in distributing vaccines through Indian Health Services.

A supply of the approved Jynneos vaccine will be shipped to the Navajo Nation this week, said Capt. Brian Johnson, acting deputy director of the Navajo Area Indian Health Service.

“We know how important it was when the vaccines came in for COVID-19,” Johnson said. “Although we don’t have a case in the Navajo Nation, we know we will have this protective measure of having the Jynneos vaccine here in place.”

The Navajo Nation is preparing for monkeypox the same way it prepared to fight COVID-19, officials said. Tribal leaders set up the COVID-19 preparedness group in February 2020, three weeks before the first cases were reported. The group was formed to monitor, plan, prepare and coordinate precautionary efforts to combat the coronavirus.

This current readiness team includes Navajo Area Indian Hospital Services, Navajo Health Command and Operations Center, Community Outreach and Patient Empowerment, and the Navajo Department of Health. Within these entities, according to Jill Jim, executive director of the Navajo Department of Health, there have been meetings to receive updates, training and to identify leaders who will co-lead the group.

“With the support of President (Jonathan) Nez in sending the letters to Washington, I am happy that we are making the connections to get vaccines through Indian health services rather than the state,” Jim said. “We have existing surveillance through the Navajo Epidemiology Center where we communicate with health facilities if possible cases are identified. These mechanisms are more alert to the fact that we are going to tackle monkeypox.”

In letters to President Joe Biden and Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra on Aug. 10, Nez said the Navajo Nation has demonstrated efficiency in administering COVID-19 vaccines. The Navajo Nation was successful in vaccine distribution because the tribe bypassed state public health agencies and instead used the IHS for vaccine distribution.

The vaccine has proven to be the fastest way to prevent the spread of diseases such as COVID-19 on the Navajo Nation, Nez wrote.

“We’ve been hearing about it for a while, but now it’s higher to some degree,” Jim said. “But messaging will always be more important and preventative.”

Since monkeypox was declared a global emergency in July, 14,115 cases have been reported in the country. The Navajo Nation spans three states: Arizona, which has 220 cases; New Mexico, with 16 cases; and Utah, with 77 cases, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Since monkeypox surrounds the Navajo Nation, the preparedness team has been activated.

Symptoms of monkeypox are similar to symptoms of smallpox, but milder, and monkeypox is rarely fatal. It can spread to anyone through close, personal, often skin-to-skin contact, such as direct contact with monkeypox rash, scabs, or bodily fluids from someone with monkeypox; touching objects, fabrics (clothing, bedding, or towels) and surfaces that have been used by someone with monkeypox; or contact with respiratory secretions.

On August 9, the United States Food and Drug Administration issued an emergency use authorization for the Jynneos vaccine to allow health care providers to use the vaccine for people 18 years of age and older who are considered to be at high risk of monkeypox infection.

“They are recommended for people who have been exposed,” said Dr. Laura Hammitt, director of infectious disease programs at the Center for American Indian Health at Johns Hopkins University.

She noted that the CDC recommends that the vaccine be given to people identified as a close contact, or to someone whose sex partner in the last two weeks has been diagnosed with monkeypox, or to someone with multiple sex partners in an area known for monkeypox.

Nez wrote in the letter that the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the inequities that tribal communities face due to a history of oppression and insufficient federal funding for tribal health care systems. . He said access to safe and effective vaccines can prevent a second pandemic from occurring during an ongoing public health crisis.

“A greater proportion of Native Americans who had contracted COVID-19 had experienced more hospitalizations and deaths,” Nez wrote in the letter to Biden. “We have every reason to expect similar impacts from monkeypox, and disparity gaps will widen without vaccine distribution in proportion to Native American rates and vulnerabilities to infectious disease.”

In addition to working to have monkeypox vaccines sent to the Navajo Nation, tribal leaders are working on a Navajo interpretation of monkeypox. Before COVID-19 was reported on the Navajo Nation, leaders interpreted it in Navajo as Diko Ntsaaígíí-Náhást’éíts’áadah (big cough-19 or big cold-19).

“As we did with COVID-19, we are developing a more Navajo medical term for monkeypox,” Nez said. “The reason we name these viruses in Navajo is so that our Navajo health professionals can also use it for research and scientific data and everyone knows what the terminology is.”

While the Navajo Nation has had no confirmed cases of monkeypox and is awaiting the supply of the Jynneos vaccine, the Phoenix-area Indian Health Service has had confirmed cases and will also receive a supply of the Jynneos vaccine. Currently, the vaccine will be reserved for those most at risk of serious illness.

The Phoenix-area IHS consists of two acute care hospitals, two critical access hospitals, four ambulatory care facilities, and a regional youth treatment center. The total patient population served by IHS in the Phoenix area is approximately 170,000 Native Americans and Alaska Natives in Arizona, Nevada, and Utah.

The Phoenix-area IHS hosts updates for federal, tribal, and city facilities regarding the most recent monkeypox guidelines from public health authorities.

“As with any public health emergency, the Phoenix area IHS is very concerned. However, monkeypox virus differs from the other public health emergency, COVID-19,” a representative from the Phoenix area IHS in an email to the Arizona Republic. “Monkeypox virus infection is very serious; however, education, situational awareness, and access to testing, contact tracing, and treatment can contain the spread of this disease. IHS remains committed to this public health approach.

Arlyssa Becenti covers Native Affairs for the Arizona Republic and azcentral. Send ideas and tips to [email protected].

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