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South Dakota community leaders recognize South Dakota Department of Health’s steps to address vaccine equity, but call for additional programs to “get a vaccine in every arm”

On April 26, 2021, community leaders representing nine groups and organizations from South Dakota released a letter calling on the SDDoH to meet with them to further guarantee that all of their recommendations on how to ensure everyone in South Dakota gets a vaccine are followed (

Recently, the advocacy group United Today, Stronger Tomorrow and community members sent the SDDoH recommendations that will better guarantee equitable access to the Covid vaccine for all South Dakotans. Soon after, the SDDoH made clear their intention to apply for additional CDC funding for vaccination equity, to increase mobile vaccination sites, and came forth with partial vaccination data. The group has now submitted a formal request to meet with Kim Malsam-Rysdon and the SDDoH to discuss how to ensure all of the group’s recommendations are met.

“There are several under-resourced, small nonprofits and Black, Indigenous, and People of Color activists across the state working to educate multilingual, rural and Native American communities on the importance of COVID-19 vaccination. We are working with health care systems and SD Urban Indian Health to deploy vaccines to these communities. We have not received any assistance from SDDoH for this critical work, and our communities need more resources,” said Taneeza Islam, Executive Director, South Dakota Voices for Peace.

In South Dakota, while about half of the eligible population has received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccination, there is continued concern that the state is not doing enough to ensure that vaccine information and resources are reaching migrant, refugee, indigenous, and rural working-class communities to maximum potential and effectiveness. UTST’s policy recommendations are based on an assessment of what local communities need to help make sure everyone in the state is vaccinated.

According to Valerie Loudenback, owner of Grand Prairie Foods which employs approximately 225 people, “We watched this unfold. We watched this virus running through our communities and we knew what could have been done differently from the start. As a business leader, we expected a more engaged state plan to approach this, but there was only a phased plan dependent on who you were; the lack of a centralized framework for businesses left us to figure it all out and it has been a huge additional burden on employers like myself.  We need more cooperation and support from our state with businesses and advocacy groups.”

The efforts to make sure all communities get vaccinated is part of United Today, Stronger Tomorrow’s work to address the COVID crisis through strong public health measures. The group was behind the effort to pass the Sioux Falls mask requirement in November.

“Equitable access to vaccines will help combat vaccine hesitancy among Native Americans in this state, but instead science and healthcare continue to be replaced by political rhetoric and litigation,” says Natalie Sites-Means, cofounder of the Wotakuye Mutual Aid Society, which has been working on COVID-19 relief in Rapid City since May 2020. “On Friday, we saw Native American COVID-19 cases double in one day and several variants have touched down in our state now. Vaccines alone aren’t going to end this pandemic, but not vaccinating vulnerable communities already hit hard in this state will only turn this pandemic into one without an end in sight. Urban Indians are not benefitting from the state or their tribal government’s COVID-19 relief right now.

The call for the meeting with the SDDoH and the implementation of other policy recommendations is happening as more than 120,000 cases of COVID-19 have been identified in South Dakota and as the state is nearing 2,000 deaths.

“United Today, Stronger Tomorrow has met with community leaders, healthcare professionals, activists, and people directly impacted by the inequity of South Dakota’s vaccine distribution to identify these issues. Now, we are excited to work with the SDDoH to discuss how to address them and best serve our communities so that we can protect all South Dakotans and not only fully reopen South Dakota, but also invest in a stronger recovery for the state.” – Micayla Ter Wee, UTST South Dakota Regional Organizer.

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