As the coronavirus vaccine rollout in Bering Strait villages continues, more and more community members have a chance to receive the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines in their local health clinic.

Local Community Health Practitioner (CHP) Danielle Reynolds says the COVID-19 vaccine offers a solution to one of the greatest challenges of running a village clinic during a pandemic.

“Not being able to see patients if they’re symptomatic, like in person. Not being able to have a face-to-face. That’s what’s been hard because that’s what I’m used to, and that’s what the patients are used to.”

– Danielle Reynolds

Reynolds says close to 200 people in Savoonga have received at least the first dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine. As a community health practitioner, she is one of nine personnel in the clinic responsible for communicating with roughly 650 residents and asking them to come receive the vaccine when it arrives.

“Well, we’ve been calling the elders first to see if they want to get it or not, and then we schedule them for when the vaccine comes in. Like, we got in a shipment today, and so we have to call them on that same day to come over.”

– Danielle Reynolds

Savoonga, like other Norton Sound villages, is able to offer the vaccine to more than just their elders.

Steven Albrich, PA Administers Pfizer Vaccine to Savoonga Resident (Photo by Sophia DeSalvo, KNOM 2021)

According to NSHC’s medical director Dr. Mark Peterson, both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines can now be safely transported to communities in Norton Sound, allowing the regional health corporation to expand the vaccination program to more groups of people in each village. As a result, none of the vaccine is wasted or leftover after a village trip.

Derek Seppilu Sr. works as an assistant manager at the local store and as the high school’s basketball and wrestling coach. He says his reasons for getting the vaccine align with his desire to keep working in Savoonga.

“For work purposes. We have a lot of customers coming in and out of the store. And also for coaching. I’m coaching basketball, and I’m hoping the season can get underway, and then afterwards is wrestling. So, hoping [the vaccine] it’ll help out with travel schedules and going to meets, tournaments.”

– Derek Seppilu Sr.

As residents come and go from the clinic throughout the day [Thursday, January 14th], many say travel is one of the main reasons why they are electing to get the vaccine.

For Savoonga teacher Sebastian Santos, getting the shot would allow him to visit his family in the Lower 48 without putting them at risk.

“I wanted to visit my family. I was actually an expat last year. I was teaching abroad. And by next September, that would mark two years that I haven’t seen my family, and I would like to be able to travel without any restrictions.”

– Sebastian Santos

Though Seppilu and Santos are both confident in their choice to get vaccinated, they still sympathize with and understand other peoples’ hesitancy about the vaccine.

Seppilu was uneasy beforehand because of what he’d read on social media, but after hearing from his cousin in Nome that everything was fine, he was fully onboard.

“They don’t want to be the guinea pig, the lab rat. They want to know that it actually works and that they’re not being experimented on.”

– Derek Seppilu Sr.

Santos notices some skepticism concerning the vaccine amongst his colleagues, but he says, “everyone’s slowly transitioning into the idea of considering to take it.”

Reynolds at the Savoonga clinic also received her first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, and she shared some final words about why all those who are eligible should follow suit.

“Right now, the benefits outweigh the risks. The technology in this vaccine has been studied for a really long time. And the reason we got the vaccine so quickly was because our governments, the world… they came together and invested in it.”

– Danielle Reynolds

For more information regarding the timeline of and technology used for the Pfizer-BioNtech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines, visit the FDA’s frequently asked questions page by clicking the respective links.

As of yesterday [Wednesday, Jan. 27th] there is 1 active case of COVID-19 in Savoonga. Over 3,000 first doses and 1,150 second doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in the Bering Strait region.

Image at top: The entrance lobby of the health clinic in Savoonga, where more than 200 residents have already received the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. (Photo from Sophia DeSalvo, KNOM 2021)