Vaccinations start as COVID-19 deaths and infections hit milestones before the holidays

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Red Lake Chairman Darrell G. Seki, Sr. gets a COVID-19 vaccination shot. (Photo from the Red Lake Tribal Council Facebook Page, 12/16/20.)

By Lee Egerstrom

Vaccines for preventing the COVID-19 virus began arriving in Minnesota a week before the Christmas holidays even as the state was reaching new milestones for infections, hospitalizations and deaths.

More than 3,000 frontline healthcare workers were among the first to be inoculated after initial shipments of the Pfizer vaccine reached Minnesota destinations at major medical complexes, the Veterans Administration hospitals and Indian Health Services (HIS) facilities.

Red Lake Tribal Chairman Darrell Seki Sr. and four other Red Lake Tribal Council members were among the first to roll up their sleeves and take the shots on Dec. 16. This was when IHS supplies and personnel began vaccinations for frontline health staff at Red Lake medical facilities and at the Red Lake Nursing Home.

Shipments of the Pfizer vaccine continued to reach Minnesota shortly before Christmas. More than 46,800 doses were anticipated to be enroute.

A second vaccine, from the Moderna pharmaceutical company, start arriving as well. Minnesota health officials expected the state to have 94,800 doses of the new Moderna vaccine by year’s end.

Meanwhile, anyone within eyesight of a television set in recent weeks have seen government and health leaders go before the cameras and take the vaccines. These include Vice President Mike Pence, President-elect Joe Biden, state officials and recognized health experts such as Dr. Mike Fauci.

A reason for these displays is to reassure the public that the new vaccines are safe and an important line of defense against the pandemic that has people isolating from loved ones this holiday season, schools and businesses closing, and disease and death spreading to nearly every family.

Leaders of various ethnic communities have expressed concerns about the new vaccines and whether they were rushed to the public as surges in infections were reported throughout the country.

The Red Lake Nation helped dispel some of these concerns in Indian Country with a public release of photos showing tribal leaders receiving their shots. Joining Red Lake Chairman Seki in receiving initial vaccinations were Secretary Sam Strong, Treasurer Annette Johnson, and district Representatives Allen Pemberton of Redby and Glenda Martin of Ponemah.

The announcement from Red Lake Nation said the Tribal Council and Red Lake Hospital were working on plans to administer the vaccines to tribal members as supplies arrive.

These actions came as Minnesota health officials were clearly in a race to protect as many people as possible from the pandemic affecting all of America and most of the world.

Just before Christmas, Minnesota topped 400,000 cases and the death toll from COVID-19 was set to top 5,000 two days before Christmas. Minnesota had 24 deaths from the virus on Dec. 22, which was down from high marks set a week earlier; but next door Wisconsin set a state record that day with 120 deaths.

Rare would be the Minnesotan or other American at this point who doesn’t know someone who has been sick, or died, from the virus or its complications.

At the national level, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said on Dec. 22 that 2020 is turning out to be the deadliest year on record. It projects more than 3.2 million deaths, up by more than 400,000 deaths from 2019. COVID-19 is the big killer.

To monitor COVID-19 news events in Minnesota and for progress in getting vaccines out to the general public, the state several informational sites, including:

For testing locations and updates, https://mn.gov/covid19/for-minnesotans/if-sick/testing-locations/;
for COVID-19 data updates and quarantine information, https://www.health.state.mn.us/diseases/coronavirus/index.html;
and for general information on public restrictions and safety measures, https://mn.gov/dhs/.