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Disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on Native Americans

Native American Heritage Month
Published: Nov. 9, 2021 at 10:05 PM CST
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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WAFF) - The month of November is Native American Heritage Month, which honors the people who have been right here in Alabama for hundreds of years.

The native communities across the state are struggling with the COVID-19 pandemic for almost two years, much like everyone else. Local native leaders say the pandemic has hit them harder than most, taking a heavy toll on their community.

Nationwide, American and Alaskan Natives were hospitalized and died from COVID-19 at a higher rate than any other racial group in the country. Infection rates are 3.5 times higher than the national average.

According to the Health Affairs journal, Native Americans have to fight both the virus and longstanding inequalities in health care, community investment and health education.

The Echoda Cherokee tribe is the most prominent native people in north Alabama. When we sat down with Echoda Cherokee Chief Charlotte Hallmark, she said the pandemic has not only impacted the health of her tribe but also the ability to gather.

“Well, to Indian people, it’s important to be together. People just want to be together. I guess people can start visiting, to some extent, but I think at some point it would just disintegrate the whole tribe,” Hallmark said.

Native American groups have had very successful vaccine campaigns in response to their disproportionately high susceptibility to the virus. According to the Health Affairs journal, this disproportion is due to longstanding inequalities caused by federal neglect and marginalization. However, this trend did not trickle down to Alabama. Only 13.4% of the Native American population in Alabama have at least one shot of the COVID-19 vaccine, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health.

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