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Seminole leaders encourage community to get Covid-19 vaccine

Big Cypress Councilman David Cypress shows his approval as he receives a Covid-19 vaccine shot from Stephen Zitnick of Seminole Fire Rescue at tribal headquarters in Hollywood, Dec. 28, 2020. (Photo Damon Scott)

HOLLYWOOD – Elected leaders of the Seminole Tribe began to receive the Covid-19 vaccine in late December to set an example for the community to do the same.

“It’s like the O.K. Corral; they’re ready to shoot,” President Mitchell Cypress said to lighten the mood a bit before he received the shot.

After Seminole Fire Rescue personnel administered it, he said the process was easy.

As the vaccine begins its initial phases to the tribal community at large, officials continued to stress how volatile the situation still is.

“Everybody should be getting the vaccine,” President Cypress said. “This is a serious virus that has destroyed people.”

President Cypress and Big Cypress Councilman David Cypress were the first elected leaders to receive the vaccine at tribal headquarters Dec. 28.

The pair shared that one of their brothers had recently passed away from Covid-19.

Stephen Zitnick, of Seminole Fire Rescue, administers a Covid-19 vaccine shot to President Mitchell Cypress on Dec. 28, 2020, at tribal headquarters in Hollywood. (Photo Damon Scott)

Councilman Cypress said he previously contracted the virus in August. Health officials said, however, that even if someone has had the virus, they should still receive the vaccine because it’s unclear how long antibodies keep someone immune.

“And here I am and hopefully everybody comes and gets their shots,” Councilman Cypress said. “It’s not something to play around with.”

Both men encouraged younger people who sometimes experience milder or no symptoms to get the vaccine in order to prevent spreading it to others – including elders who are typically more vulnerable.

Next steps

Dr. Vandhana Kiswani-Barley, the interim executive director of Health and Human Services for the tribe, oversees vaccine distribution with the head of public safety William Latchford. Their team has been vaccinating public safety and health officials as part of a first phase.

Kiswani-Barley said as the tribe continues to receive the vaccine through the Indian Health Service that the next phase will begin for health clinic patients, disabled elders and those with diabetes. After that, any tribal member 18 years and older will be in line, followed by other tribal employees.

Kiswani-Barley said the tribe is administering the two-shot Moderna vaccine, which is not recommended for those under 18 of age. A second shot is scheduled 28 days after the first.

“At this time we are scheduling individuals based on availability,” she said. “Our goal is to vaccinate as many in the community as we can as we receive supplies.”

Kiswani-Barley said a vaccine myth is that it can give someone the Covid-19 virus itself.

She said the truth is that one side effect is mild Covid-19-like symptoms like a fever, chills or joint pain, but that those occur in a very low percentage of those who receive the vaccine. The most common side effect, she said, was soreness at the site of the injection – similar to the flu shot.

Kiswani-Barley said the Moderna vaccine has been rated 94.5% effective when the two doses are administered 28 days apart. Both shots must be administered for the full benefit and protection, she said.

“We are all in it together and the safety of the tribe is of utmost importance to us,” she said.

Those who have questions about the vaccine or who want to inquire about its availability can contact their doctor or call Health and Human Services at (954) 962-2009.

Hollywood Councilman Chris Osceola receives a Covid-19 vaccine shot Dec. 29, 2020. (Photo Damon Scott)
Damon Scott
Damon is a multimedia journalist for the Seminole Tribune. He has previously been an editor and reporter for digital and print media in Florida and his home state of New Mexico. Send him an email at