South Dakota Urban Indian Health crossed a significant milestone this week: 1,000 people have received the COVID-19 vaccine at its Pierre clinic.

The clinic’s vaccine supply is allocated from Indian Health Services, rather than the state’s supply, which has allowed it to open eligibility to all people over 18 years old, Lead Medical Provider Tami Hogie-Lorenzen said Wednesday.

The clinic is prioritizing people with serious underlying health issues and those over 75, but the looser requirements have led to high interest from the community, she said.

“Word has spread really quick that we had vaccine here and could vaccinate people a little quicker because our phases were a little more broad and not as structured as other places had been having to vaccinate with,” she said. “We’ve had great community support and very high demand. We have a waiting list of people wanting to get in.”

South Dakota’s distribution plan is currently in Phase 1D, meaning that vaccines distributed through the state’s supply are available to select population groups including people over 65, residents of congregate living facilities and school staff members.

President Joe Biden on Thursday directed states to open eligibility to all Americans over 18 by May 1. That matches the timeline that the South Dakota Department of Health had in place for expanding eligibility, Communications Director Daniel Bucheli said Friday.

Several organizations in the Pierre area have begun vaccinations, including Avera Health, Shane’s Pharmacy and Walmart, according to the DOH website.

The South Dakota Urban Indian Health clinic’s patient population is around 60% Native American, but its services are available to anyone, Hogie-Lorenzen said.

“I just think it’s good that people know that South Dakota Urban Indian Health is open to everyone,” she said. “Though our focus is really on Native Americans and the uninsured and underinsured, we have our doors open to everyone who wants to come here. A lot of times there’s some misconceptions in the community that people can’t access our services but anyone can come here.”

The clinic received its first Moderna vaccine shipment in late December and they’ve been coming in steadily since, Hogie-Lorenzen said. It’s also requested allocation of the newly approved Johnson & Johnson vaccine and could see the first delivery in the next couple weeks.

With a staff of 15 people, it’s been an all-hands-on-deck effort to get people screened, registered and vaccinated.

“On a typical day we have between three and five people who can vaccinate so to get 1,000 (patients) in this amount of time, we think has been great team work on the part of our staff here,” she said.

A vaccination effort like this requires a significant amount of flexibility to account for limited doses and appointment opportunities, Hogie-Lorenzen said.

“We have been very fortunate that we haven’t had to waste vaccine but it’s taken a lot of planning and coordination to make sure we had the right number of people coming in every day,” she said.

The clinic has had calls from other communities and even people out of state looking for appointments, but it’s primarily focused on the immediate Pierre area, Hogie-Lorenzen said.

“We really want to focus on our community and the people we serve and our patients that come here regularly are getting access to the vaccine first,” she said.

In addition to helping protect people from serious COVID-19 infections, the vaccination efforts have helped get the word out about the clinic’s mission, Hogie-Lorenzen said.

“We really think our vaccination efforts have helped get that message out into the community and have helped expand the knowledge out in the community about what South Dakota Urban Indian Health can do,” she said.

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