FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) – Efforts continue to vaccinate and stimulate residents of Fresno County. However, the county’s Native American and Alaska Native populations lag behind.

Colorful informative brochures with several incentives – the Fresno American Indian Health Project finds ways to educate Native Americans and Alaska Natives in the county about the COVID-19 vaccine.

“We’ve done billboards. We’re on buses right now, promoting vaccines,” shared media manager Mike Colvard. “We’re in over 180 stores and boutiques across Fresno with our brochures, so there’s a big boost on our end.”

This is a response to the low number of vaccines in the group.

According to county data, less than 50% of eligible people are fully vaccinated and boosted.

“We have provided 1,804 (vaccines) until the end of February,” said Bertha Ramirez, director of operations. “A few boosters and the first and second doses.

While the organization is happy to see people rolling up their sleeves for the shot, they also recognize there’s still a lot of work to be done.

There are various reasons why the organization sees vaccine hesitancy in the community. They explained that the most common reason is a historical distrust of government.

Colvard shared an incident where a box of their vaccine brochures had the words “Smallpox Blankets” written on it.
“It dates back to the 1700s when British and colonial forces were coming to America,” he explained. “The army distributed some blankets to Native Americans who were covered with smallpox, as an event to exterminate the tribe at the time who fought there once.”

There has also been a huge effort to educate the organization’s customers and patients about the medical establishment.

“We have doctors and medical experts here who can attest to safety,” said Felicia Batts, director of care integration.

Similar to state and county health officials, the organization is focused on vaccinating the younger population, especially now that school mask requirements are set to end.

“We are only safe until the next variant emerges,” explained Dr. Richa Kaushal, the deputy medical director. “So the next variant will emerge unless we have some level of herd immunity. Children form a large part of our population.”

The organization encourages members of Native American and Alaska Native communities to seek more information about the COVID vaccine.

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