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Tribal, county teamwork keys Minnesota county's vaccinations

MAHNOMEN, Minn. (AP) — The only Minnesota county located entirely within the borders of a Native American reservation has been vaccinating at rates that far surpass most other counties in the state, authorities said.

Mahnomen County is located in the northwestern part of the state, about an hour’s drive from the Fargo, North Dakota and Moorhead, Minnesota metropolitan area. As of this past week, 85 percent of people 65 and older in the county have been vaccinated.

Public health leaders at the White Earth Nation and Mahnomen County credit that high vaccination rate to close collaboration between the tribe and the county to efficiently get those doses to residents, Minnesota Public Radio News reported.

The White Earth Reservation is a patchwork of tribal and private land — and the people who live there are a nearly equal mix of Native Americans and non-Native people. Since White Earth is a sovereign nation, it has the authority to set its own parameters for who is eligible to be vaccinated.

The tribe decided that everyone in the county should qualify.

“Vaccine wasn’t limited to people who were enrolled members or who had a way to prove they had Native Nation blood,” said tribal public health medical director Dr. Carson Gardner. “Anybody who lives here on White Earth lands and met the other criteria was offered vaccine. We discussed that at length and decided that was the right thing to do.”

At this point, anyone who is over the age of 18 and lives within the White Earth Reservation’s boundaries — including all of Mahnomen County — is eligible to be vaccinated for COVID-19 through the tribe’s public health department.

Shipments of the COVID-19 vaccine are reaching the county through several different channels. The state of Minnesota is delivering vaccine to tribal and county public health departments, as well as clinics operated by the Sanford and Essentia Health systems. The federal government is allocating vaccine to the Indian Health Service clinic at White Earth and local Thrifty White pharmacies through its retail pharmacy program.

Minnesota health officials on Sunday reported 891 new COVID-19 cases and nine new deaths, raising the state’s totals to 479,036 positive tests and 6,432 fatalities since the start of the pandemic.