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

A woman adminsters a shot to a shoulder
An Eielson spokesperson said the additional doses donated by Tanana Chiefs will help the effort to inoculate as many base personnel as possible. (Eielson Air Force Base)

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

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 give us our freedom. And, y’know, freedom isn’t free.”

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

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

DuBois said while Eielson continues vaccinating as many of its personnel as possible, its service members and their families and civilian workers have all been maintaining precautions including wearing face masks and social distancing to reduce spread of the disease on and off base.

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

Simon said the Tanana Chiefs also believes 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 said 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 said the Nenana clinic has been so busy that Tanana Chiefs are considering expanding it. And he said 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.

Tim Ellis is a reporter at KUAC in Fairbanks.

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