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Updated: Tribe’s vaccine eligibility continues to expand

HOLLYWOOD — Shots of the Covid-19 vaccine continued to be distributed across the Seminole Tribe in February and tribal employees began to take advantage of expanded eligibility requirements.

Hundreds of tribal members and employees have received the vaccine since the program began in late December, starting with public safety and health care workers, disabled elders, health clinic patients and those with conditions like diabetes.

After tribal members over 18 years old were offered the voluntary vaccine, eligibility expanded to non-tribal spouses and members of the community that live on reservations – as well as tribal employees. (Nationwide, the vaccine is not given to those under 18).

Tribal employees that wish to receive the vaccine – the two-shot Moderna series – are required to first fill out screening paperwork in order to be placed on a waiting list. Staff from Health and Human Services (HHS) and public safety then makes contact to schedule an appointment for the first shot. The second shot is scheduled 28-days later for a full effectiveness rate of 94.5%.

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. (Damon Scott photo)

The tribe has been receiving doses of the vaccine through the Indian Health Service – a strategy that has paid off for several tribes across the country as the U.S. vaccine rollout through state systems has hit various snags and delays. The Seminole Tribe and others have been vaccinating at faster rates than U.S. averages.

Kiswani-Barley promoted to HHS head

Dr. Vandhana Kiswani-Barley of HHS has been overseeing vaccine distribution with the head of public safety, William Latchford. Latchford’s Fire Rescue personnel have been tasked with administering the vaccine.

“We have done our outreach across all reservations and have adequate supplies,” Kiswani-Barley said Feb. 21.

Meanwhile, Kiswani-Barely was named the executive director of HHS on Feb. 1. She had been the interim executive director since June 29, succeeding former head Dr. Paul Isaacs.

Vandhana Kiswani-Barley is the executive director of Health and Human Services. (Courtesy photo)

Kiswani-Barley, a family physician, works out of the Betty Mae Jumper Medical Center on the Hollywood Reservation. She previously worked for two years at the Big Cypress health clinic as a family practitioner.

Kiswani-Barley was familiar with the Hollywood Reservation’s health care system, because she used to visit the clinic once a week while working in Big Cypress. She and her family also live in nearby Weston.

Kiswani-Barley was medically trained in New York City and then worked in rural medicine in Iowa – including with populations with high levels of comorbidities (patients presenting more than one disease).

While in Iowa, she became the chief medical officer in a rural health clinic and the head of four ambulatory units.

Swapping New York City for Florida, she moved to Broward County in 2017 for a year’s worth of private practice before interviewing with the tribe.

Editor’s note: The tribe also continues to offer drive-thru Covid-19 testing for tribal and community members at sites in Hollywood, Big Cypress, Brighton and Immokalee. For more information on testing or the vaccine, call local clinics or the HHS hotline at (833) 786-3458.

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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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