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Photo 1 Carrie Horton RN and Dr. Leo ChugunovSault Tribe Health Director Dr. Leo Chugunov, kicked off the start of COVID-19 vaccinations by receiving the first injection about 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, Dec. 16, at the tribal health center in Sault Sainte Marie.

Traditional healer Gerard Sagassige led a prayer in the tribe’s traditional Anishinaabe language and also in English before the injection.

Clinic Manager Carrie Horton, RN, gave Dr. Chugunov the initial vaccination while health center employees broke into applause.

Photo 2 U.S. Coast GuardThe first shipment of vaccine was of 185 doses, earmarked for Health Division employees. The initial shipment of doses, which arrived Tuesday night (Dec. 15) in a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter at Sault Sainte Marie’s Sanderson Field airport, will be administered through Friday, followed by a second injection three weeks later.

Standing in a first-floor conference room that was converted into a vaccine center, Dr. Chugunov thanked his staff for adapting repeatedly to the challenges of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. “I want to express my profound gratitude for your hard work and creativity,” he said.

The Pfizer vaccine, the first to receive emergency use authorization in the United States, is a major step toward stemming the pandemic, but it’s only part of a process, said Sault Tribe physician Dr. Lamar Styer. There isn’t enough research to determine how long the vaccine will provide immunity or whether vaccinated people might unwittingly transmit the virus, Dr. Styer said. “Whether you’ve had COVID or had a vaccine, still observe CDC [Centers for Disease Control] guidance,” he said. “This is not a license to stop wearing a mask.”

As vaccines become more widely available, tribal members will be able to receive the vaccine in the following order, based on a priority list prepared by Dr. Chugunov:

The COVID-19 vaccine will be administered to adults only (18 years old and older).
A. Health Division personnel.
B. Critical personnel of the Sault Tribe (non-Health Division).
C. Sault Tribe elders.

A. Adults at high risk for development of severe COVID-19 illness due to underlying medical conditions (cancer, obesity [meaning a body mass index greater than 30]), chronic kidney disease requiring dialysis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart conditions, immunocompromised state from organ transplant, pregnancy, sickle cell disease, vascular disease and type 2 diabetes); and adults experiencing homelessness.
B. Essential workers with direct interaction with the public or in high-density workplaces.
3. Essential workers without direct interaction with the public.
4. Adults without high-risk conditions.

Photo 1: Carrie Horton, RN, the Sault Tribe Health Center clinic manager, gave Dr. Leo Chugunov, the tribal health administrator, the first dose of the first allotment of COVID-19 vaccines on Wednesday, Dec. 16.

Photo 2: A U.S. Coast Guard crew member prepared to unload coolers with the COVID-19 vaccine and accompanying equipment, including syringes, on Tuesday, Dec. 15, at Sanderson Field in Sault Ste. Marie.

Photos by: Brenda Austin

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Photo by Ken Bosma / CC BY