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Vaccine Inequality in South Dakota

While the COVID-19 vaccine rollout in South Dakota is widely touted as one of the most successful in the country, access to the vaccine remains stratified by race.

Indigenous Nations lead the way

As sovereign entities, Native American tribes lead the way across the country in securing and administering vaccines among their citizens. 

In a March 27th article in the Washington Post, authors Dan Keating, Naema Ahmed, Harry Stevens, Jessica Wolfrom and Monica Ulmanu said, “The data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows the success in vaccination in Native American areas. In Arizona, for instance, the predominantly Native American counties have at least 35 percent of adults fully vaccinated while many mostly White or Hispanic counties have fewer than 20 percent. Alaska also stands out for high vaccination in part because of doses targeted at Alaska Natives living in more than 200 indigenous tribes, who have received additional doses through the Indian Health Service.

Other communities of color suffer

Meanwhile other Black, Brown, migrant, refugee and non-white communities suffer from lack of equitable access to vaccines.

According to the political action group, “United Together, Stronger Tomorrow” (UTST) these communities “disproportionately face barriers that white South Dakotans typically don’t, such as poor internet access, technological obstacles, childcare responsibilities, inflexible work schedules, poor English language skills, fears around law enforcement, historical trauma with the medical system, and more. In addition to Black, brown, and Indigenous folks, many individuals who are homebound for a variety of reasons lack any access to the COVID-19 vaccine.”

The group is mounting a campaign to petition Governor Kristi Noem and Secretary of Health Kim Malsam-Rysdon to be proactive in increasing vaccine access across the state. The goal is to vaccinate underserved populations at the same rate as able-bodied white folks.

According to the group’s petition, “South Dakota does not currently have a State Vaccine Equity Outreach Team to address the distribution of vaccines and bring pop-up sites to underserved communities, and there is a lack of transparency as to where, who, and how many people are being vaccinated under this program and very little data is currently being made public.”

South Dakota data exposes the missing information about who is being protected

The Washington Post analysis of recent data from the CDC confirms that South Dakota is not accurately or completely reporting vaccination data; which means the data is not available for outside entities to accurately assess the success of efforts in South Dakota.

Notably, South Dakota was not included in the analysis because the state did not report at least 85 percent of the people vaccinated and the state was “excluded from the analysis…including the racial makeup of counties, the urban-rural classification or the presidential vote. Other than Massachusetts (88 percent), every other state included information on more than 90 percent of the recipients. Most states had information on at least 95 percent of the people vaccinated.”

The analysis shows that “county data exposes the missing information about who is being protected. Many states are not collecting or sharing basic facts about who is being vaccinated so their information was not released. Data from other states is too spotty to include in the Washington Post analysis.”

The Washington Post article says, “The first nationwide look at vaccination across counties reveals vast differences in the rate that people are receiving protection from the coronavirus, with notably lower rates in predominantly Black areas and counties that voted most heavily for President Donald Trump in 2020.” [Note: In 2020 both Dewey and Ziebach Counties voted for Trump while Meade and Haakon, our closest neighbors, voted for Trump.]

Community health organizations stepping in

According to UTST, “Community based organizations are ready to step up and fill this necessitive role, and those sites who already have vaccination contracts have confirmed that they have the infrastructure and ability to fill this role if the data is accessible and they can identify where the need is.”

They are calling on Governor Noem and the CDPHE to “fully fund a South Dakota Vaccine Task Force and/or the State Vaccine Equity Outreach Team and make their data available to the public for monitoring.”

They say, “The application process for community-based organizations to host clinics and receive funding must be more accessible, transparent, and streamlined. Due to our diverse population, we also demand that all public-facing COVID-19 vaccination information, including how to register, site location, vaccination requirements, and availability is easily accessible and multilingual in Spanish, Nepali, Amharic, Kunama, Karenic, and Swahili (SD’s top six non-English languages). And in order to reach folks holding historical trauma and mistrust in the medical system, we need funding for community centered and culturally appropriate county-wide campaigns to educate communities about the vaccine, COVID-19, and other public health measures.”

The organization asks that, “South Dakota prioritize outreach to all underserved communities through public-facing vaccination information campaigns in multiple languages, worksite pop-up clinics, mobile vaccination units, and a door-to-door campaign targeting individuals who don’t have broadband or internet access.”

COVID concerns in the local economy are regional, not limited by state

Through its work on vaccine equity, UTST learned that because “the local economy is regional, issues and sectors – like agribusiness, meatpacking, healthcare, and higher education – cross state lines. Challenges like Covid, and its many related impacts, are regional.” As a result, the organizers are working across state lines in South Dakota and Iowa to advance vaccine access.

The full United Together, Stronger Tomorrow petition:

Contact the Washington Post at

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