Blackfeet Nation in Montana sets up COVID-19 vaccination clinic at Canadian border to share surplus doses

A U.S.-based tribal nation recently shared its COVID-19 vaccine surplus with related tribes and other residents across the border in Canada in an effort to get more people vaccinated against the virus.

The Aamskapi’Piikuni Blackfeet Nation in Browning, Montana, recently had extra doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines after inoculating a majority of its members, according to a press release.

The nation delivered the surplus and set up a mobile clinic at the Peigan-Carway border crossing in Alberta, Canada, in late April. 

"I am actually brought to tears today hearing that the efforts to assist our relatives and folks across the medicine line with vaccines has been awesome," Blackfeet Tribe spokesperson Piita’hkotokii James McNeely said. "Many of the folks cried today when they were able to get vaccinated."

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The mobile vaccination site was set up in a drive-thru format, where participants received either the Moderna or Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. McNeely said there were approximately 750 total doses available and 400 doses were administered. 

"Indian people are generous, and we’ve been vaccinating many people from all walks of life," McNeely continued.

The Aamskapi Pikuni is one of four tribal nations under the Siksikaitsitapi-Blackfoot Confederacy Tribal Council. Its territory stretches from the North Saskatchewan River in Alberta and Saskatchewan to the Yellowstone River in Montana. 34,000 members make up the Blackfoot Confederacy. 

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 104 million Americans have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, representing 31.6% of the total U.S. population. According to the Canadian government, more than 1.1 million Canadians have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, representing 3% of the country’s total population. 

Canada has faced challenges in getting its residents vaccinated. The nation has lagged on vaccinating its population because it lacks the ability to manufacture the vaccine and has had to rely on the global supply chain for the lifesaving shots, like many other countries.

The vaccine supply chain difficulties have forced Canada to extend the time between the first shot and the second by up to four months so that everyone can be protected faster with the primary dose. The hope is to get all adults at least one shot by the end of June.

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Native Americans and Alaskan Natives in the U.S. are four times more likely to be hospitalized from COVID-19, according to the CDC. Community before self has long been a core principle in Native American culture.

The Navajo Nation, the country’s largest Native American reservation with about 175,000 residents in Arizona, New Mexico and Utah, declared a public health emergency in March 2020 even before its first positive case was confirmed. A flurry of public health orders followed, including a mask mandate, shelter-in-place orders, daily curfews and weekend lockdowns. Tribal leaders banned mass gatherings and ordered the closure of schools, four casinos and other tribal businesses, along with tribal parks popular with tourists.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. This story was reported from Los Angeles.