‘We’re all in this together’: Tanana Chiefs donates vaccine doses to Eielson Air Force Base

An Eielson spokesperson says the additional doses donated by Tanana Chiefs will help the effort to inoculate as many base personnel as possible. (Photo via Eielson Air Force Base)

The Tanana Chiefs Conference has administered more than 14,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine since the pandemic began to protect Native and non-Native Alaskans around the Interior from the disease. And on Monday, the Fairbanks-based organization donated 800 surplus doses to Eielson Air Force Base to help protect servicemembers and their families and the civilian employees who work there.

Tanana Chiefs has been inoculating people in Fairbanks and more than two dozen outlying communities since late December. When the organization got an extra allotment of the Moderna vaccine this month from the federal Indian Health Service, TCC Chief and Chairman P.J. Simon said he and other leaders wondered how they could best use the surplus.

“And we thought, ‘Well, let’s offer it to the U.S. military,’ ” he said. “They provide us protection and gives us our freedom. And, y’know, freedom isn’t free.”

Eielson spokesperson Staff Sgt. Kaylee DuBois says base officials were thankful for the offer.

“We appreciate the doses we got from the Tanana Chiefs Conference,” she said, “and we’re looking forward to providing these vaccines to volunteers in our base community as soon as possible.”

DuBois says while Eielson continues vaccinating as many of its personnel as possible, its servicemembers and their families and civilian workers have all been maintaining precautions like wearing facemasks and keeping social distance to reduce spread of the disease on and off- base.

“In the fight against covid, we’re all in this together,” she said.

Simon says the Tanana Chiefs also believes that a unified effort is essential to halt the spread of covid in and around Fairbanks.

“We’re just happy to be part of the community and to help contribute,” he said. “Y’know, the tribes want to contribute to everybody pulling out of this pandemic.”

That’s why Tanana Chiefs began offering vaccinations to Fairbanks North Star Borough School District workers in late February. And earlier this month, the organization began offering the vaccine to anyone age  16 or older who lives in the Fairbanks North Star Borough.

“We opened it up to everybody,” he said. “We’ve been giving it out for a while, the free vaccinations.”

Simon says Tanana Chiefs also has been vaccinating as many people as possible in the 26 communities within its service area. In Tok, 200 miles south of Fairbanks, many got their shots at TCC’s Upper Tanana Health Center, a $20 million facility that opened in November. The clinic provides care for both Natives and non-Natives, as does the TCC facility in Nenana.

Simon says the Nenana clinic has been so busy that Tanana Chiefs are considering expanding it. And he says the organization also is building clinics in the villages of Northway and Rampart.

Editor’s note: Any resident of the Fairbanks North Star Borough interested in getting a free covid vaccination from Tanana Chiefs must contact the organization by close of business Friday. To find out more and to schedule an appointment, go to the covid vaccine page of the TCC website or call the organization at (907) 452-8251.

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