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Meskwaki Tribal Health Clinic receives a national award for its COVID-19 vaccination efforts

Natalie Krebs/Iowa Public Radio News
The Meskwaki Tribal Health Center has received national recognition for its COVID-19 vaccination efforts.

The Meskwaki Nation's Tribal Health Center is getting national recognition for its wide-reaching COVID-19 vaccination efforts.

The health clinic’s staff of around 50 people is receiving the Heroes in Health Award, the National Indian Health Board’s most prestigious award.

It's one of just a handful of agencies nationwide that's receiving the award, according to a press release from the Meskwaki Nation.

Rudy Papakee, the director of the Meskwaki Health Clinic, estimated just under 90 percent of the settlement’s eligible population is fully vaccinated, which is much higher than the state average of 63.5 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Papakee said the tribal health center staff came up with multiple initiatives to get settlement residents — and even other communities vaccinated.

He said one reason the settlement's vaccination rate is so high is because the clinic used CARES Act funding to offer Visa gift cards as incentives for tribal employees and local Native Americans to get the shot. They offered $100 per dose.

"The people that were on the fence were the ones that kind of said, 'Well, hey, you know, for a couple 100 bucks, I'm going to get the vaccine now,'" Papakee said.

He said the health center also used CARES Act funding to purchase a travel bus to create a mobile vaccine clinic.

The Meskwaki Health Clinic used federal funding to purchase a bus to help distribute its COVID-19 vaccine doses to communities around Iowa.

As Iowa's only federally recognized tribe, the Meskwaki Nation had the option of getting vaccine doses through the state of Iowa or the federal government's Indian Health Services.

Papakee said the tribe chose the feds and received an "abundance" of vaccine doses.

"We got through our local population pretty quick," he said. "And then we were looking through, you know, some of the news stories and some of the reporting going on about other communities struggling to get the vaccine."

Papakee said the clinic's staff took their mobile clinic as far as Marshalltown and Des Moines to help get people vaccinated. He said the mobile bus helped reach lower income populations.

"We considered opening up vaccine clinics locally and having people come to us," he said. "But then we started thinking and realizing that you know, there might be some people that don't have reliable car, don't have gas money."

Papakee submitted the clinic's staff for the national award due to their tireless work in the past few months.

"It just shows that, you know, if you put in the work, your hard work and dedication can and will be recognized," he said.