ROSEBUD, S.D. (KELO) — On Monday, a federal holiday for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, staff of the Rosebud Indian Health Service were hard at work.  

The goal was to get at least 500 people of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Despite it usually being a day off for many, volunteers and workers alike showed up to meet the need. 

From left to right: Rosebud Indian Health Service Chief, Nurse Officer Callie Raymond, Rosebud Sioux President Rodney Bordeaux, Rosebud IHS CEO Melody Price-Yonts and Deputy Clinical Director Dr. Eve Lackritz.

By the end of the day, 572 individuals were vaccinated.  

Dr. Eve Lackritz, Deputy Clinical Director of the Rosebud Indian Health Service, said Monday was a very proud day for everyone. 

“The day was amazing,” Lackritz said. “We had amazing turnout and commitment from the community. We’ve had amazing leadership from the Rosebud Sioux Tribe to make this all possible. That kind of leadership puts wind in our sails.” 

Lackritz said staff at the IHS hospital has been running a marathon this past year taking care of patients and dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Now, on top of that marathon, we want to run a spring,” Lackritz said, referring to the vaccine process. “The staff stepped up and the community stepped up. We have this tool to make a difference.” 

“The cooperation between the tribe and IHS has been great. We’ve had our differences in the past, but we’re working very closely together and making a big difference with this pandemic,” 

Rodney Bordeaux, President of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe.

Rodney Bordeaux, President of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, said the ultimate goal is to vaccinate 15,636 tribal members. As of Friday morning, Bordeaux said 1,762 members had received at least one dose of the vaccine. 

“That’s 10 percent of our goal,” Bordeaux said. “In order to get there, we have to have this cooperation working with Indian Health Service. It’s going very great.” 

Statewide, South Dakota’s Department of Health has reported 54,617 total persons have received at least one dose of the vaccine, which is roughly 6% of the population. The state health department says it holds weekly calls with IHS and tribes to assist with vaccine planning.

Bordeaux said the tribe had the option to receive vaccines from the state government or the Indian Health Service. 

“We chose the Indian Health Service primarily because of our treaty rights,” Bordeaux said. “The cooperation between the tribe and IHS has been great. We’ve had our differences in the past, but we’re working very closely together and making a big difference with this pandemic.” 

The Rosebud Sioux Tribe has had 1,407 total coronavirus cases with 1,367 recoveries and 25 deaths. Bordeaux said the tribe population is vulnerable because many have underlying health conditions like diabetes and heart disease. 

“Our tribe has had a position early on with a stay-at-home order since March, which is still in place today,” Bordeaux said. “We’re trying to protect our membership.” 

Bordeaux said the community response to the pandemic has been good. He highlighted how the tribe continues to educate people about the vaccine and the virus. He said the tribe has been using social media, a sponsored channel on cable TV and two local radio stations to get the word out.   

Melody Price-Yonts, Chief Executive Officer of the Rosebud Indian Health Service, said the goal will be to model future vaccine clinics like the one on Monday. There’ll be scheduled clinics Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday where people can set appointments for a vaccine injection every 10 minutes. 

“Every Thursday, going forward, we’re going to have a mass vaccine clinic,” said Price-Yonts, adding that IHS workers heard positive feedback about the mass clinic. 

Price-Yonts said there’s weekly meetings with the tribe and IHS promotes weekly PSA’s on Facebook and local radio stations. 

“Community members know what their options are to get vaccinated,” Price-Yonts said. 

Next Thursday, another vaccine clinic will be hosted by the Rosebud Indian Health Service from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Rosebud IHS. The clinic is for people 65 years and older and people with underlying medical conditions.

Lackritz said the biggest challenge ahead is maintaining momentum on both the pandemic response and getting people the vaccine. 

“We have to wake up every morning, smarter, faster and more dedicated,” Dr. Lackritz said. “We’re doing everything that we can think of with all available resources to make sure we have the most accelerated response.” 

Rosebud IHS Chief Nurse Officer Callie Raymond said every health system would like more staff but the Rosebud IHS is making everything work. 

“Our staff has really stepped up,” Raymond said. “Working with our community members and vaccinating them, you share stories. The stories they share, the people they’ve lost gives us a commitment and a drive to serve.”