BALTIMORE (WMAR) — "We all come out on the bench and sit," said Carlene Nuder.
Nuder has lived in Patterson Park since 1970. She moved from North Carolina to raise her family.
"We were raised here with our aunts, uncles, cousins. It was a very tight Native American community," said her daughter Carlene Godwin.
They are part of the Lumbee tribe from North Carolina. There are around 6,000 members still in the Baltimore area.
"We’re a very rich heritage," said Godwin.
In total, around 65,000 Native Americans live in the D.C. Maryland Virginia area.
In an effort to reach them during vaccine distribution, the Indian Health Service is providing COVID-19 vaccine doses to the University of Maryland, Baltimore vaccination clinic exclusively for Native Americans, tribal and Indian agency employees and their families.
"We want to ensure that if there are any barriers that we have an opportunity for targeted outreach and education to reach more of the native community," said Dr. Beverly Cotton, the director of the Indian Health Service Nashville Area and an enrolled member of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians.
"For native people, so much is at stake for us, our cultures our languages. Sometimes somebody is one of the last person that knows the ceremonial song, if they get ill from COVID and pass away, that ceremonial song goes with them. There are just things we can’t replace," said Kerry Hawk-Lessard, Executive Director of the Native American Lifelines of Baltimore, a partner in this effort.
It’s the only clinic in the region to have exclusive availability for Native Americans. Nuder and Godwin are getting vaccinated there Friday.
"I’m ready to get it done," said Nuder.
It’s part of UMB's vaccine equity mission to reach underserved and minority populations, especially those facing high COVID-19 mortality rates, like Native Americans.
"It’s incredibly fulfilling to help the Native American population in and around Baltimore and anyone who has difficulty accessing healthcare. We’re here to step up and fill that void," said Dr. Jonathan Bratt, Executive Director of the Office of Emergency Management at UMB.
According to the CDC, the American Indian community has the highest COVID-19 death rate compared to other ethnicities.
"American Indians and Alaska natives are at higher risk for COVID-19, higher risk for hospitalization and more likely to have poor outcomes so getting this vaccine gives us an opportunity to protect ourselves, protect our communities and protect our families," said Rear Adm. Michael Toedt, the Chief Medical Officer for the Indian Health Service.
"We have been affected personally," said Godwin.
She lost her sister to COVID last year, so they knew when they became eligible, they wanted to get the vaccine. Finding appointments was difficult and this clinic made it easy. Now they are working to get the word out.
"This is great opportunity for all Native Americans to come out and get vaccinated," said Godwin.
The Native American community can schedule their vaccination at UMB here. The clinic is open from 10 a.m. to 5:45 p.m. from Thursdays through Saturdays, and Wednesdays as needed. Residents without internet access can call 410-396-2273.