How the Navajo’s Cultural Values Are Driving COVID Vaccinations

COVID-19 has actually eliminated Native Americans at two times the rate of White Americans, underscoring the health injustices and deep-rooted distrust tribal countries have of federal government entities.

Dr Mary Hasbah Roessel

The Navajo nation occupies the largest Native American booking in the United States, spanning New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah. Since mid-October, the country had reported more than 34,000 COVID-19 cases and 1,400 deaths in its jurisdiction.

And yet, Native Americans have the highest vaccination rates of any significant racial or ethnic group in the United States. Like lots of other tribal nations, the Navajo needed to accept Western science to recover its social custom-mades and ceremonies. “Were a really social culture, so needing to separate actually impacted our mental health,” said Mary Hasbah Roessel, MD, DLFAPA, a Navajo psychiatrist who is connected with Santa Fe Indian Hospital in New Mexico.

Q: What changes took place within the Navajo nation to get people vaccinated? What function did the federal Indian Health Service have in promoting this?
A: There had to be a shift in approval of the vaccinations. I think what particularly assisted the Navajo nation was seeing the IHS rise and provide access for vaccinations and treatments early on.
With the IHS, we went into a catastrophe response mode with all-hands-on deck meetings. We needed to determine how we might access mass vaccination centers. Partnering with the Navajo Department of Health, we did that right now with medical facilities and little centers throughout the Navajo nation. Casinos owned by tribal entities that closed during COVID were and reopened used as vaccination centers.
Vaccinations were sent out to us fairly rapidly. I ended up getting immunized in December 2020, when it was very first presented.

Native and Navajo individuals have actually hesitated to count on federal government services. COVID decreased that preconception to access its services due to the fact that IHS came through with the vaccines. Even the Navajo Department of Health partnered with the Indian Health Service to provide culturally relevant campaigns that explain why the vaccine is important.

I think since people were so affected, they saw something important with the vaccine. Provided the education and gain access to, people were prepared to get vaccinated. They recognized if an entire household got immunized, they might see early on that they might be social once again.

In an interview with this wire service, Roessel explained the collaborations that set in motion a country of more than 250,000 people to get immunized.
Concern: Why has the death rate been so high in the Navajo country?

Theres a lot of hardship, a high unemployment rate. Some people had to go to work off reservation and were possibly bringing the infection home. Elders were susceptible to getting the infection, and there was little capability to isolate if somebody wasnt having symptoms.
For that reason, the rate of cases escalated early on. We were disproportionately affected. The Navajo country per capita had the highest rate of cases in any state.

Q: What cultural elements have been adding to this favorable development?

We talk about that in terms of how we teach our young individuals to be resilient and strong. Our culture is very strong in that way. We focus on positive things, so if we see something as possibly favorable, such as the vaccine, we see that and know thats something to help us come into our life once again.

A: Yes, we didnt desire to lose our language and culture, and we wished to secure our senior citizens. Having a method to do that was extremely important too. They were amongst the very first to get immunized.

Q: I would expect that securing elders in the tribe would be a huge incentive in taking the vaccine.

Q: What is the present vaccination rate in the Navajo country?

A: I believe its in the upper 80th percentile. Its very high.

Q: What have been the most significant takeaways up until now, and what are your hopes for the future?

Through partnerships with the federal and state federal governments and the clinics, we see that things are different now. When the New Mexico Department of Health rolled out its very first vaccination clinic, for example, we leapt on and saw how they did it.

We likewise saw how important our culture was, how it assisted our Navajo people through these hard times.

A: Even though the Navajo Nation has actually been impacted and devastated with the loss of senior citizens and understanding keepers, we still have our culture and ceremonies undamaged to the point that we understand we can be durable survive this hard time.

Roessel, a prominent fellow of the American Psychiatric Association, has special proficiency in cultural psychiatry. Her youth was spent growing up in the Navajo country with her grandfather, who was a Navajo medication man. Her psychiatric practice focuses on incorporating Indigenous knowledge and concepts.


Partnering with the Navajo Department of Health, we did that right away with medical facilities and small clinics across the Navajo nation. Her childhood was invested growing up in the Navajo nation with her grandfather, who was a Navajo medicine male. The Navajo Nations Office of the President and Vice President.

Navajo Nation Government websites.

American Public Media Research Lab. “The Color of Coronavirus: COVID-19 Deaths by Race and Ethnicity in the U.S.” 2021 Mar 5.

Like lots of other tribal nations, the Navajo had to embrace Western science to reclaim its social customizeds and events. The Navajo country per capita had the highest rate of cases in any state.

Navajo Nation. Indian Health Service. U.S. Department of Health & & Human Services.

The Navajo Nations Office of the President and Vice President. “11 New Cases, 32,735 Recoveries, and Six Recent Deaths Related to COVID-19.” 2021 Oct 13.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Demographic Characteristics of People Receiving COVID-19 Vaccinations in the United States.” Information since 2021 Oct 14.

This short article initially appeared on, part of the Medscape Professional Network.

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