Oklahoma tribes plan to administer COVID-19 vaccines to non-members

TULSA, Okla. — Tribal governments administering the COVID-19 vaccine to their members will eventually switch over to help non-tribal Oklahomans get vaccinated.

FOX23 News has been looking into numerous claims from viewers saying they’d been vaccinated by a tribal entity even though they did not have tribal heritage or have a membership to a local tribe. The Oklahoma State Department of Health said it is possible for some non-Native American Oklahomans to get vaccinated by a local tribe because of how things are set up between the tribes and the federal government.

Just like the State of Oklahoma receives a weekly allotment of COVID-19 vaccine doses, tribal governments in the state receive their own shipments of doses from the federal government through the Indian Health Service. Because of that, OSDH told FOX23, that they don’t have to follow the state’s phased vaccination plan as long as their actions are approved by the IHS.

>> OSDH: COVID-19 vaccine registration available, scheduling for those in phased priority plan

“We have been coordinating with our tribal partners, and they are key in reaching out to their part of the state to get their communities vaccinated,” Oklahoma Deputy Health Commissioner Keith Reed said.

Reed said because there is a finite number of people in a tribe, it is possible that they will soon expand their services to people outside of their tribes in order to not waste vaccine doses that they continue to receive.

Just last week, the Cherokee Nation began opening up its vaccination clinics to anyone who can show tribal heritage, even if they aren’t Cherokee. The Osage Nation has started to make its vaccine doses to available to all teachers in their area regardless of tribal status.

“We have to get approval from the Indian Health Service before we can just start giving out our doses,” Brian Hail, executive director of Cherokee Nation Health Services, said.

Hail went on to say that they are able to vaccinate everyone in the Cherokee Nation, and they will make plans to continue to expand their outreach to other communities as more of their people complete the two-dose regimen but IHS continues to ship them doses.

Reed said as time goes on, more talks will happen between the state and the tribes about how best to use their doses once they’ve vaccinated all of their citizens, but for now, people who are not part of a tribe should continue to rely on the state’s website and Walmart pharmacy partners for appointments.

People who FOX23 has spoken with just happened to truly be in the right place at the right time when extra doses were available and would be wasted if not used. The same thing happens at State of Oklahoma points of distribution where some volunteers and people who live near a POD have their names and numbers on file with a local health department so if a dose is available, they can be called and they are offered an extra dose if they want it.