Navajo Nation prepares for vaccinations as FDA moves closer to Pfizer vaccine approval
WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. – On Dec. 10, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s advisory committee recommended the authorization of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for COVID-19.
The recommendation allows for the distribution of the vaccine based on the CDC’s phased distribution plan. The plan calls for health care workers and those living in long-term assisted living facilities to receive the vaccine first on a volunteer basis.
Final FDA approval is pending.
Upon final approval by the FDA, the Navajo Area IHS will initially receive 3,900 doses of the Pfizer vaccine early next week, which will be distributed to each of its service units based on user population percentage. The Navajo Nation opted to have the Navajo Area IHS oversee the distribution of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, with the exception of the Utah Navajo Health System, which opted to work with the state of Utah for distribution.
Moderna is also seeking approval from the FDA for its COVID-19 vaccine, which has shown 94.5-percent effectiveness. Both COVID-19 vaccines, Pfizer and Moderna, will require two separate doses to be administered at two different times.
Pfizer has reported that its vaccine is 95-percent effective against COVID-19 with no serious safety concerns.
Earlier this year, the Navajo Nation Human Research Review Board, the National Indian Health Service IRB, and the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health IRB approved the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine clinical trial.
As of Dec. 8, over 43,000 people have volunteered for the Pfizer vaccine trials worldwide, including members of the Navajo Nation and the White Mountain Apache Tribe.
On Dec. 10, Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez and Vice President Myron Lizer joined Navajo Department of Health Executive Director Dr. Jill Jim, Chief Medical Officer for Navajo Area Indian Health Service Dr. Loretta Christensen, Dr. Laura Hammitt with John Hopkins University, and other public health experts to provide important updates about the Pfizer vaccine at live virtual town hall.
“We are relying on the recommendations of the CDC, regarding the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccines,” said Nez.
Nez stated that it was important to understand that vaccines will be distributed across the country, therefore it will take time before the vaccine can be made widely available to the general public.
“We have many of our Navajo people who live off of the Navajo Nation, and we want them to be made aware of this information as well,” he said. “We have had many of our own Navajo citizens voluntarily participate in the vaccine trials, and I have not received reports of any major issues.”
Nez said the Nation will continue working closely with public health experts and will rely on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control, to provide more information, facts and transparency and to provide answers to questions throughout this process.
“Public engagement is very important throughout the COVID-19 vaccine distribution process. We encourage our Navajo people, wherever they reside, to learn about the vaccines and help inform the elders as well,” said Vice President Lizer. “This is the light at the end of the tunnel, but we have to remain diligent and dedicated to protecting ourselves and our loved ones as the numbers of COVID-19 cases remain high on the Navajo Nation and in the southwest region. Please continue to pray for everyone, especially for those on the frontlines.”