The COVID-19 pandemic has been devastating for Native American tribes and communities across the United States. They’ve been left out of receiving additional emergent care that has been provided to non-tribal communities.

The situation is no different for the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, the largest reservation in Oregon. As of April 21, the Warm Springs Health and Wellness Center has reported 727 COVID-19 positive cases, 82 hospitalizations and 22 deaths among the 6,066 members eligible to receive care from the U.S. Indian Health Service.

Additional efforts were needed to reduce spread and save lives. In response to an increase in vaccine supply in January, the Warm Springs COVID Vaccination Team started planning what would become a total of four large-scale community vaccination events for tribal members 18 years and older, and for any non-tribal persons who work or live on the reservation.

With approval and encouragement from leadership of the Oregon State University Division of Extension and Engagement, Extension faculty member Olivia Davis contacted the Warm Springs Vaccine Team to offer Extension support. In each of the vaccine clinics, Extension faculty and staff assisted in directing traffic and parking, the sign-in process, cleaning furniture and supplies, flow management and scheduling

A total of 699 vaccinations were administered at the two clinics in February, with an additional 770 vaccinations administered at the two clinics in March. Extension faculty and staff who volunteered at the clinics included Davis, Sara Rogers, Ellise David, Tracy Wilson, Thomas Stokely, Ariel Cowan and Nicole Strong. Together, the team gave 81 hours of time at the community wide events.

“After an entire year of Extension not being able to conduct in-person programs in Warm Springs, the OSU team was enthusiastic about getting back to serving the community face-to-face and to building relationships,” said Davis, SNAP-Ed outreach coordinator and Family and Community Health educator for the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs and Jefferson County. “Two of our team members were new to OSU and the clinics were their first visits to Warm Springs and their first experiences with the community.

According to the Warm Springs vaccination Team, “the contributions of the OSU Extension team played an integral part in assuring the community vaccine clinics were successful and helped make it possible to efficiently administer over 1,400 doses of vaccine at these events.”

The Confederated Tribes of Warms Springs is comprised of three Native American tribes: Warm Springs bands, Wasco and Paiute tribes. The partnership between the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs and OSU has existed for over 50 years. A Memorandum of Understanding between the university and the tribes provides support for an Extension program. It is the only reservation in Oregon with an Extension office.

~ Chris Branam