Clinic and Tribal Leaders Among First to Receive Covid Vaccines
By Joe Morey
On Wednesday, Dec. 16, LCO Chairman Louis Taylor and Vice-Chairwoman Lorraine Gouge, along with three members of LCO Health Center administration, were the first five persons at LCO and Sawyer County to receive the Covid-19 vaccine from Pfizer that is being rolled out nationwide this week.
LCO Clinic Director Gary Girard, the clinic’s medical director, Dr. Steven Miszkiewicz, and staff physician, Dr. Harry Malcomb, joined tribal leadership at Noon today at the clinic for the first vaccinations.
“Today we embark on, what we hope, is the beginning of the end of the world wide pandemic of Covid -19. With great gratitude to Indian Health Services and their amazing team, LCO Tribal Governing Board and the dedication of Lac Courte Oreilles Community Health Center employees, we will begin the initial Phase 1A of COVID 19 vaccinations,” read a statement released by Dr. Miszkiewicz and Dr. Girard. “This has been months in the making and will take many more months before completion. The initial Phase 1A will be completed in the next 48 hours with 60 more immunizations of those members of Phase 1A group who have volunteered.”
Girard explained the first phase of the vaccine is mandated by federal government to be available to clinical staff and front line workers such as EMT, fire and police.
Girard said he is not mandating his employees to get the vaccine. He explained that everyone’s situations are different whether you are more vulnerable and have health issues compared to younger, healthier employees. He added about half the clinic staff said they were going to get the vaccine and a number of local first responders and police would also be in the first phase.
Girard said 30 vaccinations will be administered on Thursday and another 30 on Friday.
The next phase will be the Moderna roll out and the Tribe will receive more vaccinations at that time. It is unclear how many the Tribe will receive. Girard stated that both, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccinations, are nearly identical.
Dr. Miszkiewicz told the TGB that his medical team supports LCO leaders to be among the first vaccinated. “You are an essential group because you are the leaders of the Tribe and without you, the Tribe could grind to a halt.”
Girard said the TGB supports the vaccine and it’s good that the people of the Tribe see that support.
“It’s a good decision that you get it first,” Girard said.
Chairman Louis Taylor said he was nervous at first about getting the shot, but, “As a tribal leader I knew it was important to step up and show our members it’s going to be okay. We need to keep our Tribe going.”
Vice-Chairwoman Lorraine Gouge added, “I did this because not only am I a cancer survivor, but, as a tribal leader I wanted to show our members we can get through this together and to show the Elders not to get anxiety. If I can do it, you can too.”
Dr. Malcomb said as a doctor, “I don’t want to get the virus from a patient and give it to another. I wouldn’t want to spread it to anyone.”
Taylor said he gives the LCO Health Center a lot of credit that we are getting our vaccines today. He said LCO Health Center administration had the foresight to get the necessary freezer to hold the vaccinations at a temperature over 100 degrees below zero.
“We are the only Tribe in the area to have this capability,” Taylor said.
Dr. Miszkiewics said the vaccines for all the Tribes in our region were delivered to LCO for storage in their freezer. He explained once they are taken out of the freezer, they have to be used within five days. On Monday, three neighboring tribes came to LCO to get their doses while a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter came here to pick up doses and deliver to Green Bay for Tribes in that area.
“LCO is way ahead of the ball game because of their tribal leaders and clinic administrators to have went ahead and got this freezer,” Dr. Malcomb said.
The freezer was acquired a couple months ago in preparation for this eventual delivery of the vaccine.
Girard said the next phase will most likely be administered to Elders and other essential workers, but the TGB would have input at that time on who gets it.
Dr. Malcomb explained that at one point in Sawyer County nearly half of the EMT’s were in quarantine and that’s why it’s important they get vaccinated so that the Tribe and county can keep up basic services.
In the photos from top to bottom left to right rows) the group awaiting their vaccines; Chairman Louis Taylor receiving his vaccine; Vice-Chairwoman Gouge waiting; Dr. Malcomb, Vice Chair Gouge, Gary Girard, and Dr. Miszkiewicz receiving their vaccines. Bottom row is Dr. Miszkiewics showing Chairman Taylor the freezer storing the vaccines at over 100 degrees below zero.