Lummi Nation today administered its first Pfizer vaccine to a tribal member following delivery of 300 doses to the tribe. Lummi Indian Business Council (LIBC) also approved the tribe’s participation in a phase 3 COVID-19 vaccine trial by Novavax. The vote to approve the vaccine trial came only after a three-step process of approval that included community input.
James Scott, a Lummi Nation member and facilities worker at the Lummi Tribal Health Center was the first to receive one of the 300 Pfizer doses.
“If there’s anything I can do to help our generation and the next generations live longer, that’s why I’m doing it,” said Scott. “I’m just showing our children this is how we do it. We don’t run from a fight, we stand up for our family, we stand up for our people, and most importantly we stand up for mankind.”
Lummi doctors emphasized that the first vaccines are welcome news but the fight isn’t over.
“This virus is only getting more invasive and deadly,” said Lawrence Solomon, Chairman of the Lummi Nation. “We are blessed that we have been able to begin administering vaccines to elders and frontline workers, but we want every option made available to our relatives to fight the pandemic. The vaccine trial is just one more tool they have if they want it.”
The opportunity to participate in the Novavax trial came after the tribe withdrew from an AstraZeneca trial, citing communications challenges following a pause in the study when participants experienced adverse reactions. Approval of the trial came after a review of the study protocols by the Northwest Indian College Institutional Review Board, the Lummi Health Commission and LIBC. Each group reviewed the vaccine trial with special attention to past medical studies that have harmed Native communities.
“After careful review of the Novavax trial, we are optimistic that this is a better fit for Lummi members who want to participate,” said Dr. Dakotah Lane, medical director of the Lummi Public Health Department and member of the Lummi Nation. “Native peoples are at a much higher risk of severe symptoms and death from the coronavirus, so there’s a lot at stake with combatting the pandemic in our tribal communities.”
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)*, Native Americans test positive for COVID-19 at a rate 3.5 times higher; are hospitalized due to COVID-19 at a rate 5.3 times higher; and die from COVID-19 at a rate 1.8 times higher than that of non-Native populations. To date, only a few tribes nationwide are participating in COVID-19 vaccine trials.
The Lummi Public Health Department anticipates that it will begin enrolling volunteers in the Novavax study as soon as FDA gives the green light to start enrollment. The study has the ability to enroll up to 200 volunteers, and 2 of 3 study participants will receive the actual vaccine. One in 3 will receive the placebo. Participants who receive the placebo will be among the first people to receive the actual vaccine once it is made available to the public.
“The recent success of other vaccine trials is good news,” said Lane. “I don’t think there’s anything we can infer from the success of other trials just yet, but I’m pleased that we are able to provide our Lummi Nation members an opportunity to participate in a fully-vetted trial if they choose to do so.”
According to medical experts, demand for a COVID-19 vaccine is likely to exceed availability, at least initially.
“We’re obviously very happy that we are able to administer the Pfizer vaccine to our most at-risk workers and tribal members,” said Lane. “But we are looking at situation where demand far outpaces supply. It will be critical to have vaccine options available for the community as soon and as safely as possible.”