John Waghiyi remembers rushing his cousin to the clinic in the Bering Sea city of Savoonga in December, worried he was having a possible heart attack while out butchering a bowhead whale. Waghiyi arrived to see elders waiting in the lobby for a COVID-19 vaccine.
Waghiyi, 66, said he joined them and got a shot before returning to the coast to help finish the whale harvest.
Elders, he said, have set the tone in the Alaska Native community of 735 on the coast of isolated St. Lawrence Island. Vaccination rates for eligible residents 16 or older are among the region’s best, with over 80% having had at least one dose, according to the regional tribal health corporation.
“We live for our children. We want to bring that sense of normalcy back in our lives,” he said, adding that protecting the community “needs to be No. 1.”
Alaska’s highest vaccination rates