Hard hit by coronavirus, Denver clinic helps Native Americans get vaccinated

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Posted at 8:55 PM, Jan 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-08 22:59:04-05

DENVER — The Denver Indian Health and Family Services held their first clinic in Denver on Friday and gave the Moderna shot to 120 Native Americans.

The pandemic has taken a cruel toll on American Indians and Alaska Natives across the U.S. They make up 0.56% of the Colorado population and 0.65% of COVID-19 deaths in the state, according to the state health department website. A study by the Centers for Disease and Prevention (CDC) found that Native Americans are nearly twice as likely to die of COVID-19 than white people.

Charlene Irani is a board member with the Denver Indian Health and Family Services. She received her vaccine on Wednesday. On Friday, she helped people fill out forms and prepared them for their inoculation.

Irani calls COVID-19 "the invisible virus." She says it’s taken the lives of her people.

“I’ve had friends die because they didn’t believe it was real,” Irani said. “This is real.”

Denver Indian Health and Family Services set up a clinic at the Denver Indian Center. Staff scheduled more than 100 of their patients who met the state vaccination phase system for an appointment to get the Moderna vaccine.

Karen Hoffman-Welch, the director of primary care for Denver Indian Health and Family Services, says their patients were nervous and concerned about the shot.

"(They had) a lot of questions. Are they going to get sick? Are we actually giving them the virus?" Hoffman-Welch recalled.

To help put them at ease, staff helped answer their questions and provided facts about the COVID-19 vaccine.

“We called about 200 patients and were able to get about 150 or so to say yes,” Hoffman-Welch said.

The history between the government and Native Americans fuels hesitation about getting the vaccine.

“There is a historical kind of trauma when it comes to the medical society because they have been tested without their permission,” Hoffman-Welch said.

She adds that American Indians are more likely to take advice from community leaders than medical experts. It's why advocates like Irani are also getting vaccinated. Irani says it's vital to share her story and assure her people the shot is safe.

“I’m feeling great, I have to tell you I didn’t get any of the side effects,” Irani said.

She’s pleading with her community to get the vaccine.


“This vaccine is here to help us, not to hinder or hurt us,” she said.

Delmar Hamilton got his shot on Friday. He says too many people are dying and he wants to help protect and preserve his history.

“The tribal thing is an oral tradition and if there isn’t anybody to pass that oral tradition — it’s lost forever,” Hamilton said.

The vaccines came from the Indian Health Service, a federal health program for American Indians and Alaskan Natives. University of Colorado pharmacy students volunteered to give the shots.

Hoffman-Welch says they were hoping to vaccinate 150 people but only reached 120. The process is targeted and each does must be tracked.

“Each vial has ten doses and once that vial has been opened I have to use it within 12 hours, so I have to make sure I have at least ten people every time we open a vial to give them the vaccine,” she said.

Any doses left over from Friday’s clinic will be frozen in storage. In four weeks, those who received their shots will return for their second dose.

Hoffman-Welch expects to set up more clinics in the coming weeks. Shots will only be administered by appointment.

If you are an American Indian or an Alaskan Native and want to get on the list to get vaccinated, you can sign up for free online by clicking here and registering as a new patient. The Denver Indian Health and Family Services will contact people by phone to schedule appointments if they meet the phase requirement. You can also call (303) 953-6600 to set up an appointment.