Guest column: Immunizing is imperative in protecting ourselves

Guest Column (photo/Adobe)

Guest Column (photo/Adobe)

Our vigilance in immunizing is imperative in protecting ourselves against COVID, RSV and the flu during the upcoming winter holiday season.

The Navajo Nation COVID-19 Dashboard shows a recent surge in the number of new COVID cases. On October 27, there were 317 new cases for the week. On November 3, there were 778 new cases for the week. The same day, the Navajo Office of the President issued a press release stating that 45 of the 110 Navajo Chapters had a high COVID transmission status.

Last week, on November 9, there were 729 new cases for the week. Note that this is just 6 days from their last update. The Navajo Department of Health has been inconsistent in their COVID-19 Dashboard updates. For example, this past week they updated on Wednesday instead of Thursday, even though the site says that they now update every Thursday.

The Navajo & Hopi Families COVID-19 Relief Fund received reports that the entire Ganado Unified School District took two days off the first week of November due to a chain of events caused by several teachers and faculty testing positive for COVID.

A follow-up call to the Superintendent’s Office confirmed this. The District chose to err on the side of caution in taking these days off to prevent any further spread of the virus among the students and faculty. Kudos to them for doing the right thing.

This situation emphasizes that the COVID virus is still causing serious problems on the Navajo Nation.

The New York Times’ November 11 State of the Virus update tells us that across the United States, cases and hospitalizations are on the rise, driven by surging numbers in the Southwest (Navajo country, perhaps?). The Times says that Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada all saw hospitalizations increase by more than 30 percent in the past two weeks.

There are several factors that may be contributing to the rise in cases for the Navajo Nation.

The Nation could be experiencing the residual fallout of confirmed cases from Navajo Fair Season where many of our people gathered in close proximity and traveled in from off-reservation locations. We also had many homecoming events and a less-restrictive Halloween this year.

Many of us are traveling off-reservation during the holidays to municipalities and counties where mask mandates have ended. Maps from the New York Times still reflect that most counties bordering the Nation are in moderate to high transmission status.

The change in season has caused us to stay indoors in tight quarters which is more conducive to viral transmission. These factors all likely contribute to our surging number of confirmed cases. In the weeks ahead, families will be coming together for various winter holidays, which also facilitates rapid transmission.

Last year, the post-holiday season ushered in the formidable Omicron wave where we saw as many as 2,375 new cases in the week ending January 14. Omicron is a highly transmissible mutation of the COVID virus. The current COVID data on the Nation mirrors data from a year ago, so we too must err on the side of caution this holiday season to avoid a repeat of last winter.

We can’t foresee what’s on the horizon when it comes to COVID because the virus continues to adapt to find ways to diminish the efficacy of the vaccines. Thus, we must fight back in this war against COVID by continuing to follow safety precautions and protect ourselves and our community by getting the bivalent COVID-19 booster.

The bivalent booster is the newest COVID booster, designed to protect against both the BA.4 and BA.5 strains of the Omicron mutation (this is why it is called “bivalent”). The bivalent booster is the only COVID booster that will protect us against this winter’s transmission season.

If you don’t have your bivalent booster yet, make an appointment with your healthcare provider to get it as soon as possible. It is now widely available at healthcare facilities throughout the Navajo Nation.

But even the bivalent booster isn’t a silver bullet. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified a number of new COVID subvariants that could soon outpace BA.5. For example, the BQ.1, BQ.1.1 and BA.4.6 subvariants are currently gaining ground across the United States. In Singapore, XBB, dubbed the “Nightmare variant,” is causing cases there to surge. So stay tuned for additional boosters.

As we’ve come to learn, COVID won’t be eradicated anytime soon. The less chance we give the virus to mutate by vaccinating and getting boosted, the more we can control it, protect our community, and save lives.

We’re not there yet. Just over ten percent of the IHS-serviceable Navajo population is currently up to date on their vaccination status, meaning they’ve received the bivalent booster in addition to the original series of the Pfizer, Moderna, or Johnson & Johnson vaccines.

This means just over ten percent of our people are protected from COVID transmission this winter. We need to bring this number up, rapidly. Get your bivalent booster as soon as you can, and encourage your loved ones–especially our elders–to get theirs as well. This is how we protect our community from COVID this winter.

There are expectations that we’ll experience another COVID surge on the Nation this winter. The bivalent booster is the best tool in our toolbox. Let’s use it.

Continue to be safe, protect one another, and have a safe holiday season.


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