Suquamish Tribe Prepares Groundwork for Vaccine Distribution

Phased approach puts priority on most vulnerable

A Suquamish Tribe team headed up by Emergency Operations Manager Cherrie May is hard at work preparing for an unprecedented effort to vaccinate everyone in the Tribe who wants to be protected from COVID-19.

While there are still many unknowns, the Suquamish Tribe’s Vaccine Planning Committee drafted a vaccine distribution approach that was approved by the Tribal Council at their Nov. 23 meeting.

“The goal is to have a general approach in place so that when the vaccine arrives we are ready to hit the ground running as fast, efficiently, and safely as possible,” said May. “We’ve developed a phased approach that puts the priority on our most vulnerable Tribal members while keeping the government functioning so we can get the vaccine out to everyone else.”

The Vaccination Planning Committee includes May, the Suquamish Tribe’s Acting Co-Executive Director Jamie Goobie, Tribal Public Health Officer Dr. Barbara Hoffman, Tribal Attorney Melody Allen, Suquamish Chief Police Mike Lasnier, Early Learning Center Nurse Renee Hommel, and Communications Coordinator Jon Anderson.

“The Committee is working with a lot of uncertainty tied to the vaccines, but we have been doing our best to think through a variety of intertwining issues,” says May.

Among the questions, unknowns, and issues the Tribe is grappling with:

  • Which of the two leading vaccines the Tribe will decide to provide.
  • How many doses of the vaccine will the Tribe get initially and in follow-up batches.
  • The logistics of receiving, storing, and administering two doses of a vaccine to thousands of Tribal members, families, and employees.

The Pfizer vaccine, for example, is expected to be the first released for use, but is shipped only in large batches of doses and it must be stored at -80 degrees. Once thawed it must be kept cold and administered within six hours.  It also will require two doses to be effective

“Whether the Tribe will be able to access to this vaccine and be able to administer it has not been ruled out yet as we are stilling waiting on some answers from the Department of Health to some of these very questions,” says Hoffman, who was appointed as Tribal Health Officer by Tribal Council last month.

The Moderna vaccine is next in line for potential distribution and will likely begin to be available starting in January.

This vaccine also requires two shots but is easier to store and provides more time to administer once thawed, says Hoffman.

“Regardless of which vaccine the Tribe first receives, we do not expect to get a large number of doses in the first batch.  We also don’t know how many doses will be provided over time for mass vaccination,” says Hoffman.

Given all the unknowns, vaccine distribution will happen in phases, and Suquamish health officials will need flexibility to accommodate the uncertainties, she says.

“The approach is based on two key priorities – continuity of government and health vulnerability of Tribal members,” says Hoffman.

The first group, which is likely to be a small group, includes individuals needed to make sure the Tribal government can continue to operate – Tribal Council, for example – and high-risk essential employees who are in constant, direct contact with members of the community, particularly those who are especially vulnerable.

“So that would include nurses, in-home care providers for Elders, community health representatives, case managers and others in the direct line of fire who have been who are at high risk of exposure to the virus every day,” says Tribal Attorney Allen. “These are people who provide care to our most vulnerable.”

The next group includes all Tribal elders, as well as moderate-risk, but essential workers.

That group will be immediately followed by all remaining Tribal members and member households.

The last group to receive vaccinations will be remaining Tribal Government staff and Tribal Enterprise workers.

“We are still working out the logistics while not knowing when and how many doses the Tribe will receive,” said May. ”As we’ve been doing all along, we are planning with flexibility to avoid any logistical and/or medical problems and so we are ready to hit the ground running as soon as the vaccine is released.”

Tribal leaders urge anyone with questions or concerns to email

As the situation develops and more details become available, Tribal members will be notified via the Tribe’s website and Suquamish Updates Now (SUN). If you haven’t signed up yet, or need to update your information, you can do that here.