TAHLEQUAH – With the continued spread of the COVID-19 Delta variant, Cherokee Nation Health Services officials are seeing an increase in cases and hospitalizations, similar to the first surge in 2020, and encourage the public to get vaccinated. 

The Delta variant is more contagious than previous strains of the virus, more than two times as contagious and may cause more severe illness, according to the Centers for Disease Control. 

“In this surge, we are seeing increased visits in the Emergency Department and Urgent Care, which puts additional strain on an already taxed health care system,” states an email from CNHS officials. “The hospitalization rate remain steady and is similar to what we experience during the first surge. We are again seeing large numbers of COVID-19 positive patients, most of which are unvaccinated and many are critically ill. Other hospitals and health care systems across the region are at capacity and are experiencing long delays in hospital-to-hospital transfers, which also negatively impacts our health system.”

According to data from the New York Times, Oklahoma’s daily average of positive COVID-19 cases as of Sept. 21 was 1,834 with 1,398 hospitalizations.

CNHS officials said getting the approved COVID-19 vaccines are “highly effective in preventing severe disease and death.”

“However, in some cases, a fully vaccinated person could become infected, which is called a breakthrough infection,” CNHS officials stated. “In low vaccination coverage areas, communities are finding themselves faced with more rapid surges in those Delta variant cases which not only increases the risk of breakthrough infections, but leads to increased hospitalizations, deaths, and increases the chances this virus can once again mutate leading to more dangerous variants.”

CNHS officials said that getting the vaccine is strongly encouraged, but only about 47% of people ages 12 and up were fully vaccinated Oklahoma, according to the NYT data. 

“The best thing you can do to protect yourself from COVID-19 and the Delta variant is to be fully vaccinated,” CNHS officials stated. “Meaning, if you get a two-dose vaccine like Pfizer or Moderna, you must get both shots and then wait the recommended two-week period for those shots to take full effect. Of course, we should all continue wearing masks, frequent hand washing and practicing social distancing to increase that protection.”

Any member of the public is eligible to receive the vaccine at any of the tribe’s outpatient health centers.  

The CN is also offering an “additional dose” of the Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccine for moderately to severe immunocompromised people. Those who should received the additional dose include:

· Those receiving active cancer treatment for tumors or cancers of the blood;

· Those receiving an organ transplant and taking medicine to suppress the immune system;

· Those who received a stem cell transplant within the past two years or are taking medicine to suppress the immune system;

· Those who have a moderate or severe primary immunodeficiency such as DiGeorge syndrome or Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome;

· Those who have advanced or untreated HIV infection; and

· Those who receive active treatment with high-dose corticosteroids or other drugs that may suppress their immune response. 

The additional dose is not recommended for those with common conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, asthma, high blood pressure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Ask a medical provider for more information. 

The additional dose of the vaccine is separate from the booster dose. The booster dose will be available through CNHS this fall.