Indian Health Service Officials praise Fort Belknap's vaccination efforts


April 14, 2021

Fort Belknap Tribal Council member Judy King, right in the photo, welcomes and presents gifts to Acting Indian Health Services Director Elizabeth Fowler on behalf of the Fort Belknap Indian Community. Director Fowler praised Fort Belknap's combined health services for achieving the highest covid vaccination rate among reservations in Montana and Wyoming. Soon a group of Fort Belknap health professionals will be going to Fort Peck to help with vaccination efforts there.

Indian Health Service's (IHS) national director, and other regional IHS officials, visited Fort Belknap Indian Community last week. IHS Acting Director Elizabeth Fowler described her visit as a celebration of the roll-out and success of the vaccination efforts to stem the spread of COVID-19 at Fort Belknap. Per Fowler, Fort Belknap's health authorities have the best record in the Billings IHS service area for percentage of vaccinations administered.

Camille Stein, Fort Belknap's Public Relations Officer, wrote "Fort Belknap currently has the highest vaccination rate in the entire IHS Service Area with 65% of the 18+ population and the start of vaccinating the 16+ population." The local IHS service area is based in Billings and includes all the reservations in Montana and Wyoming.

Fowler, speaking for the IHS organization, also explained that Fort Belknap's health organizations are among several across IHS's areas of service that have reached out to vaccinate community members who are not Native Americans. Local vaccination clinics were recently held by Reservation health authorities in both Harlem and Havre to vaccinate students. Early on the IHS and the local Tribal Health Department prioritized teachers and elders for early vaccinations. Local IHS chief executive Jessica Windy Boy said she believes those early vaccinations saved lives in the local Indian community.

Still some vaccine hesitancy...

Fort Belknap Public Health Nurse Cindy LaMere was quoted in an earlier news story about the "false concerns" and hesitancies for vaccinations she hears about the vaccines. Mostly she hears about the side-effects of the vaccine that some patients experience after the immunizations.

She explained that feeling ill after a vaccination shot is the body's immune-response reacting, a good sign that one's immune system is responding properly.

This group of Fort Belknap tribal and health officials gathered last week to welcome Acting Indian Health Services Director Elizabeth Fowler and regional IHS officials. Fowler's visit was to recognize the number of covid vaccinations completed at Fort Belknap, the highest percentage among reservations in Montana and Wyoming.

Addressing some of the "threats" she hears being attributed to the vaccines, LaMere reflected about her experiences with the swine flu in 2009. She noted how social media, during this pandemic, has "changed things." She remarked that social media can help people be positive and informed about the pandemic but social media can also "enable a massive spread of misinformation." She believes too many folks are being influenced by the negative aspects of social media.

LaMere suggested avoiding online searches for health information on Google or general search engines. Rather, she encourages going directly to websites with science-based sources for medical information, like the CDC (Center for Disease Control). She added her group had to do a lot of education with patients about sources for reliable medical information regarding COVID-19.

On behalf of the Fort Belknap Leadership and Health Authorities, Camille Stein wrote "...a huge thank you to the Fort Belknap Community for following guidelines and getting vaccinated to continue to keep Fort Belknap Safe! Continue to protect yourself and loved ones, wear a mask, wash hands, and social distance." With significantly reduced active covid cases, the vaccinations and precautions seem to be working in the Fort Belknap Indian Community.


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