Nurses Travel Hours to Vaccinate SD Native Communities

Carolyn Crist

February 25, 2021

Editor's note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape's Coronavirus Resource Center.

Health care workers in South Dakota are traveling thousands of miles across Native communities to deliver COVID-19 vaccines, according to ABC News.

Molly Longbrake, a nurse, and her team of health care providers have administered 4,000 doses and plan to vaccinate about 12,000 people, often in places where only one hospital or a small clinic is available.

Cherry Creek Clinic in South Dakota, for instance, is usually staffed by one person and is the only place to buy over-the-counter medicines in the area, the news outlet reported. In early February, Longbrake and her team traveled an hour to the clinic to give three shots.

"One person vaccinated is a huge accomplishment for us," Longbrake told ABC News.

"One death is one too many, and we've already lost people from the reservation," she said. "It's very difficult and saddening."

Longbrake's mother, Donna Rae Peterson, dedicated her life to cultural preservation for the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe in South Dakota. She died from COVID-19, and Longbrake decided to take up her mother's cause.

"In a way, it is because experiencing the loss, personally, of somebody so close to me," she said. "I wouldn't want anybody else to experience that."

So far, South Dakota has vaccinated residents more quickly than most other states. Outside of Native communities, about 22% of people have received their first dose in the two-shot regimen, according to the South Dakota Department of Health, and 11% have received both doses. More than 278,000 doses have been shipped to the state, according to the CDC, and 159,000 residents have received a vaccine.

The state has reported more than 112,000 cases and 1,864 deaths during the pandemic. New cases have been decreasing in recent weeks, and 102 people are currently hospitalized.

"We're basically giving away everything we get," Shankar Kurra, MD, the vice president of medical affairs for Monument Health who oversees the vaccine rollout across the western side of the state, told ABC.

Health care workers administered more than 8,400 doses on Friday, marking a daily record for vaccinations in the state, according to KELO. South Dakota is in Phase 1D of its vaccination plan, which will open up to people with underlying health conditions at the beginning of March. After that, teachers and school staff will quality for a vaccine.

"We were ready as soon as we got it and we got shots in arms," Kim Malsam-Rysdon, the state's secretary of health, said during a news briefing on Wednesday.

"We could definitely handle more vaccines if we got it," she said.

Sources

ABC News, "Nurse hits the road to get COVID vaccine to Native communities."

South Dakota Department of Health, "South Dakota COVID-19 Dashboard."

CDC, "COVID-19 Vaccinations in the United States."

KELO, "S.D. administers more than 8,400 doses of COVID-19 vaccine in 24 hours, health officials say they're ready to handle more."

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