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Tribe hopes more will get vaccine in new phase

HOLLYWOOD — The Seminole Tribe began to transition to phase three of reopening June 7 and it comes with a message to those who have not yet received a Covid-19 vaccine – get one.

Part of phase three entails tribal employees returning to work in tribal buildings July 6. Officials consider phase three the final phase of reopening. However, the tribe’s Health and Human Services department (HHS) still has certain pandemic-related requirements in place. One is that masks are still required inside tribal buildings.

“The use of masks will likely be in place until we are able to get a clear from the CDC,” Dr. Vandhana Kiswani-Barley, the executive director of HHS, said. She added that mask use was also still in place to “ensure the safety of our vulnerable population.” (The CDC is the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).

One change with the new phase is that temperature checks are only required at tribal clinics. However, enhanced cleaning and disinfecting is still in effect, and as a precaution, the tribe is asking anyone with Covid-19 symptoms not to enter a tribal building before calling their clinic or doctor. This also includes if their family members have symptoms – which include fever, cough, sneezing, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing.

HHS executive director Dr. Vandhana Kiswani-Barley.

Health clinics offer the two-shot Pfizer and Moderna vaccine to those 12 and older. Those in the tribal community, including non-tribal employees, can call the HHS hotline at (833) 786-3458 to determine eligibility and be placed on a waiting list.

Since the tribe’s vaccine program began Dec. 28, 2020, both HHS and Public Safety department staff have administered shots and overseen considerable logistics. Vaccine administration has now shifted to HHS exclusively because there is no longer a high volume of vaccine requests, even though just 25% of the tribal community had been vaccinated as of late June, according to HHS. Kiswani-Barley and tribal leadership had been hopeful that vaccine numbers would rise significantly through a vaccine drive it held at all reservations from June 1 to June 4.

“Unfortunately, the vaccine drive did not go as well as we thought it would,” Kiswani-Barley said. “We got only 10 individuals to come through tribalwide.”

The issue of vaccines was raised at the tribe’s Inauguration Day ceremony June 7. Both Hollywood Councilman Christopher Osceola and (former) Big Cypress Councilman David Cypress pleaded with tribal members to be vaccinated.

Kiswani-Barley is particularly concerned about a new variant of Covid-19 that has recently emerged.

“The Delta variant is in the U.S. and is more contagious,” she said, adding that a vaccine is 80% effective against it after the two-shot dose and 30% effective after one dose. “We are here to serve the community in any way,” Kiswani-Barley said. “Individuals are encouraged to seek medical care if they exhibit symptoms, have questions or are exposed.”

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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 damonscott@semtribe.com.
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