As people across the United States jockey and wait to get vaccinated, a different problem is unfolding in the Cherokee Nation: plenty of shots, but not enough arms.

It is a side effect of early success, tribal health officials said. With many enthusiastic patients inoculated and new coronavirus infections at an ebb, the urgency for vaccines has gone quiet.

Now, the tribe is confronting what looms as a hurdle for the whole country as vaccine supplies swell to meet demand: how to vaccinate people who are not eagerly lined up for a shot.

That public health challenge encompasses persuading skeptics, calling people who don’t realize they are eligible, and making vaccines accessible for homebound patients, overstretched working families and people in rural areas and minority communities.

The Cherokee Nation has administered more than 33,000 doses at nine vaccination sites across its reservation, which spreads from cities through rural woodlands, cattle pastures and poultry farms in northeastern Oklahoma. After vaccinating health care workers, Cherokee-speaking elders and essential workers, the tribe opened appointments to anyone who qualifies, tribal member or not, living in its borders.

Still, hundreds of slots have gone unfilled, health officials said. Cherokee-speaking vaccine schedulers hired to set up appointments are waiting for their phones to ring.

The Osage Nation, in northeastern Oklahoma, is vaccinating about 200 people a day at a clinic that has the capacity to give 500 shots. It tried two mass vaccination events at its casinos, but the results were disappointing.

So the tribe bought two 30-foot “medical RVs” that will roll into smaller towns like Hominy and Fairfax to reach the 30 to 40 percent of tribal elders and essential workers who did not volunteer to get vaccinated. It is a house-by-house campaign against misinformation and wariness, waged with long conversations and patience.

“We tried to remove every obstacle to people who were sitting on the fence,” said Dr. Ronald Shaw, the medical director of the Osage Nation.


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