The Nunivak Island community of Mekoryuk has reached as close to 100% vaccination of its eligible population against COVID-19 as the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation can confirm.
Mekoryuk is the first community in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta — and likely the first in Alaska — to possibly reach total vaccination for everyone aged 16 and older.
The community of about 200 people possibly reached total vaccination the week of April 9, according to data from YKHC.
Linda and Shara Davis are a mother-daughter duo who work for the health corporation as Mekoryuk’s two health aides. They talked with KYUK in late March, when the community was 98% vaccinated against COVID-19.
“We’re really happy, relieved and excited. We feel more at ease,” Linda said.
“I’m really happy that our community members decided to get the COVID vaccine, and relieved, too,” Shara added.
The duo ran a constant and personal campaign encouraging vaccination against COVID-19. They made announcements over the VHF radio and called patients one by one. They also connected people who had questions about the vaccine with doctors at YKHC.
Their strategy worked: Vaccination numbers climbed quickly.
YKHC Chief of Staff Dr. Ellen Hodges called Mekoryuk’s possible total vaccination “a truly remarkable accomplishment” and attributed its success to Linda and Shara Davis. Alaska’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink also commended the mother-daughter team.
“Big hats off to those community health aides doing the work, the hard work, on the ground, answering questions, making sure their community feels safe and protected,” Zink said during a press conference.
In partnership with the health aides, the Mekoryuk Tribe encouraged vaccination.
“We’ll protect our tribe, our children, our elders as much as we can,” Mekoryuk Tribal COVID-19 Coordinator Mona David told KYUK in March.
David said protecting elders and children drove most residents to get vaccinated. They also wanted children to be able to return to in-person schooling. In March, that became possible.
But a deeper reason also motivated residents to get inoculated.
“Because we’re only one of a kind. We’re Cup’ig,” David said.
The Mekoryuk tribe is the only Cup’ig tribe in the world, a singular group of Yup’ik Alaska Natives with a distinct dialect. The village is isolated, located on Nunivak Island in the Bering Sea. The tribe imposed strict travel restrictions and health precautions since the beginning of the pandemic to protect residents, making it nearly impossible for non-residents to enter the island.
Mekoryuk Tribal Council President Edward Kiokun said past epidemics had killed generations of their tribe, severely reducing their population, so the tribal council did what it could to prevent that from happening again.
So far, it’s been successful. The community has had fewer than 10 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and no one has died from the virus.