Virtual Town Hall discusses COVID-19 Vaccine

By Ardith Van Riper

     The Ho-Chunk Nation Department of Health hosted a second virtual town hall where Executive Director Kiana Beaudin and Dr. Amy DeLong discussed the latest COVID-19 vaccine information.  The town hall took place in a Zoom meeting on Friday, February 18.

     Health and Wellness Coordinator Jon Greendeer began with a brief introduction of Beaudin and Dr. DeLong.  Here is a summary of the information shared.

     Kiana Beaudin provided an updated of where the Ho-Chunk Nation stood, “We have 688 total positive cases, 40 active cases, and this had jumped significantly since Monday when it was 16.  We have 4,260 negative tests, 50 people that have ever been hospitalized, 11 people deceased, and no confirmed re-infections.”

     Executive Director Kiana shared her screen with participants and displayed two timeline graphs of COVID-19 cases and deaths.  The data showed significant increases in both areas since November.

     Beaudin explained, “A lot of our exposures are coming from community gatherings. We had to put out 13 exposure notices for community gatherings.  This is just for gatherings that we were unable to contact all of the individuals who were present and could have been exposed.  This does not count smaller community gatherings where exposures have happened. 

     “I’m asking each and every one of you not to attend community gatherings or mass gatherings.  Mass gatherings are currently defined as ten people or more.  This is where were are having most of our exposures, where most of our positive exposures are coming from.  If it is not essential that you be at these gatherings, please do not attend them.

     “The percent of people who have tested positive, that we have tested, is 19 percent.  Which is very high; however, this has come down from critically high.  We are improving a little bit, but this is still high and not good.  We want to be around five percent.

     “We have received the Moderna vaccine. To date, we have received 1,300 doses, and we have distributed 1,352 vaccines with no vaccine being wasted.  We were able to squeeze out a few extra doses from some of the bottles. 

     “We are administering the vaccines through what we call a POD or point of dispensing.  Each of those locations is at the House of Wellness in Baraboo, Wisconsin and the other is at the District 1 Community Center in Black River Falls, Wisconsin.

     “We do have a pre-registration for the events.  A link has been sent out.  Also, you can call and pre-register.  Just so you are aware, you do not have to pre-register.  You can register at the time of the event.  You can just show up.  It will take approximately five minutes longer to get you through the process. 

     “Amy and I had the privilege of being some of the first individuals who were vaccinated through the Department of Health.  We’ve had one dose.  Moderna is a two-dose series, and you need to receive the vaccines 28 days apart. 

     “Myself, I only experienced some mild arm pain, also known as pain at the injection site.  I did feel a little fatigue, but I couldn’t tell if it was my normal level of fatigue or if it was due to the vaccine.

     “(With) Moderna, about 30 percent of individuals experience some kind of side effects, but they weren’t necessarily severe.”

     Dr. Amy DeLong shared her experience, “Like Kiana said, we were among the first to receive the vaccine rollout.  I, too, experienced arm soreness at the injection site.  Mine lasted a couple more days, and instead of describing it as mild, I would describe it as moderate.  It hurt to lay on it at night and gone by day two.  It got better as time went on. 

     “I also had the experience of having COVID-19 back in November.  That was eight days of my life that I’ll never get back marked by fatigue, body aches, and a very weird cough.  I know some people have experienced very mild symptoms to sometimes even no symptoms and even those who have passed away from COVID-19.  There is really no predicting how you, yourself, are going to be affected if you were to become infected with COVID-19.

     “If I had to choose between arm soreness for a couple of days and the eight days that I’ve had of body aches and fatigue, I would definitely choose the vaccine.”

     Kiana spoke about new strains, “You may have heard in the news that there have been some additional new strains of COVID-19 that have been found.  I’d like to reassure everyone that at this time, it appears that the current vaccine is effective against these new strains of COVID.  It is recommended that you still get the vaccine.”

     Executive Director Kiana Beaudin and Dr. Amy DeLong went into a question and answer session.

Question: Is it better to get the vaccine or get the disease? 

     Dr. DeLong: Based on my own personal experience and research has supported that it is better to get the vaccine than the disease.  The reason for that is just like I had stated.  We don’t know the type of reaction any one person is going to have - anything ranging from mild respiratory illness to cold symptoms to death.  It’s much safer and wiser to get the vaccine. 

Question: If you get the vaccine, can you go back to do whatever you want? 

     Dr. DeLong: Yes and no.  You can go back to work, you can cook at home for your family, but you do have to wear masks still.  You do have to avoid social gatherings of ten or more people.  You do have to remain social distancing. 

     The vaccine likely won’t be rolled out to the general public until this spring or summer.  In the short term, the most important way to prevent the spread of COVID-19 for most of us is going to be wearing a mask when you are in public, social distancing, and avoiding gatherings.  If you’re eligible to receive the vaccine, please get it.

Question: When can we expect to get more vaccines? 

     Beaudin: Unfortunately, we don’t have a reliable answer to this question.  We are ordering vaccines every week, and we have been receiving varying numbers of vaccine.  Hopefully, we continue to get vaccine every week, but we don’t know how many that will be. Our last vaccine dose amount was 60 vaccines at each site.  That would be a total of 120 vaccines that we’ve received.

Question: How will the community know more about the vaccine being available to them? 

     Beaudin: We’ve been working with our social media platforms, our Legislators in order to get the word out at Area Meetings and with the (Hocak) Worak.  Word of mouth seems to be best.  If you have any suggestions, please let us know.

Question: Is it true that the vaccine alters your DNA?

     Dr. DeLong: This vaccine that we have is called an mRNA or messenger RNA vaccine.  It is not a live vaccine or weakened version of COVID-19.  It does not alter your DNA at all.

     Beaudin: The best way I heard this described is like it’s an email.  So, you download the attachment for the instructions to make the protein in order for your body to be able to fight COVID-19.  For you gamers out there, it could be like a game downloading to a game console. 

     The vaccine does provide better protection against the virus over natural immunity.  It has a more reliable level of protection versus natural immunity.  At this time, we do not know how long immunity lasts from the immunization because it’s so new.  As far as I know, they are tracking individuals who participated in the trials for two years.

Question: If I already had COVID-19 and recovered, do I still need to get vaccinated and why? 

     Beaudin: Same answer there. 

Question: What is the process in determining a vaccine safe? 

     Dr. DeLong: Sure, this is answered by doing what we call clinical safety trials.  Each company who now has the vaccine out, Pfizer and Moderna, conducted studies on 15,000 people or a total of 30,000 people where the safety of this vaccine was tested.  That’s how the process is determined if this vaccine is safe.  As we learn more about this vaccine, as we track any adverse side effects, we will learn more and more about this vaccine.

Question: Are other household members able to get vaccinated along with tribal members and employees? 

     Beaudin: I’m assuming that this person is not within the tiers.  At this point in time, we are not doing household members.  That will come at a later point in time.  We will be doing household members.

Question: When can kids with health concerns get the vaccine? 

     Beaudin: Currently, Moderna is approved for 18 years, and older and Pfizer is approved for 16 years and older.  They are in the middle of trying to recruit and do more trials for younger individuals.  We are hoping that we’ll see that approval come for adolescence in the near future.

Question: Governor Evers said people over 65 could start getting vaccinations on Monday, January 25, is there a reason we have to wait until Tuesday and Thursday? 

     Beaudin: The reason why we have to wait is because that is when we have already scheduled our PODs or vaccine events.  It takes an immense amount of planning, an immense amount of personnel to facilitate the PODs.  We already had them set up, so that’s why we are waiting until that point in time. 

Question: If you are Ho-Chunk and your kids are not enrolled, will they be eligible to get the vaccine? 

     Beaudin: If your children still live with you, they will be eligible once we get to the household members. 

Question: Would you like to explain the timeline of immunity?

     Dr. DeLong: Yes.  When you receive the vaccine, it takes about two weeks for your body to mount a response and actually use the antibodies to protect you from getting the infection.  That is typically what I counsel my patients.  You can expect two weeks before your body is immune or has the antibodies to protect you from COVID-19.  If you were to get sick a day after or two after you get the vaccine, that simply means you were exposed prior to getting the vaccine and then developed it.

     You get the booster 28 days later.  That would be considered full protection.  Until you get number two vaccine, you don’t have your full antibody response. 

Question: Can you receive the vaccine if someone in the same household is in quarantine? 

     Beaudin: The answer is yes.  You can receive the vaccine if someone in your household is on quarantine if you yourself are not on quarantine. 

Question: When someone gets the booster shot, when is it ok to visit them again?

     Dr. DeLong: If this is someone you live with, you can continue to live with them.  If this is somebody that does not live with you, remember the timeframe is typically two weeks.  I’d say give it about two weeks before you visit them.

     Beaudin: Would you say still do so wearing your mask, staying six feet apart, and washing your hands?

     Dr. DeLong: Absolutely, thank you.

     Beaudin: I have to clarify my question about the children in the home.  Again, Moderna is only for 18, and older and Pfizer is approved for 16 and older.  We have received the Moderna vaccine.

Question: After getting the booster shot, how long does it take for the vaccination to work? 

     Beaudin: We do not know the answer to that question yet. 

Question: When do you think things will go back to the new normal? 

     Beaudin: I think that’s a loaded question.  I think it also depends on how many people get the vaccine and if people stop going to mass gatherings, and how many people continue to wear their masks.  Do you have anything else, Amy?

     Dr. DeLong: I think I agree.  It’s a loaded question.  I believe that if there is a crisis like we have with this pandemic.  Things never really go back to the way they used to be because of all things we’ve learned and how we’ve adapted. 

     For example, as a family practice physician, I will continue to do some telehealth visits for the remainder of my career.  That is something that has started with this pandemic.  My colleagues and I will likely continue to carry out this service, especially for those who live far away, and it’s very difficult for them to get to the clinic. 

Question: When someone gets the vaccination, will it be on their immunization record?

     Beaudin: Yes, it will be on your record.  For those of you who live in Wisconsin, we have the immunization registry, and it will be recorded there as well.

Question: We live in the Chicago metro area.  Will you be working with the Indian Center there to get Ho-Chunks living in the area, or will we have to travel north to get the vaccine? 

     Beaudin: I believe you can access the vaccine through the Indian Health Center there, and I do have a link for other Indian Health Service locations for the rest of you who do not live in that same area.  It’s  Also, we have, and you can use that.  However, it’s not active for COVID-19 vaccines.  It will when the vaccine becomes more widely available.

Question: When will the Health Department come to other Ho-Chunk Nation sites for immunizations?

     Beaudin: Once the vaccine becomes more widely available, we will be looking to start going into other communities.  At this point in time, we have such a small number of vaccines that we will only be doing the PODs at District 1 Community Center and House of Wellness.

Question: Why do elders have to drive over three hours one way to get immunized in January? 

     Beaudin: Again, that’s just because we do not have enough vaccine to give to wide numbers of people and our best bet is to do it at our two sites.  When elders have been called, if they need assistance with transportation, we are trying to provide that, but we have a very limited number of transports.  If you need help with transportation, please indicate that when you call to register.

Question: Should people who test positive for COVID-19 get vaccinated?  And if so, is there a waiting period from when they tested? 

     Dr. DeLong: It’s a great question, and yes, people who have tested positive – there is a waiting period.  If your infection was less than four weeks ago, you should probably wait because your immune system is still somewhat activated. 

     I’m going to give an example of my mother, who is in a special situation.  I think some of you out there who might be listening could relate with a family member who has cancer, primary cancer or metastatic cancer.  Their white blood cell count is being monitored, and or they are on chemotherapy.  She, too, had COVID-19 and was advised to wait as an almost 71-year-old person with cancer and with a low white cell count to wait nine weeks before she got the vaccine. 

     It is different for each person depending on their age, depending on their medical conditions, and if there is ever a doubt about the time you should wait for getting your vaccine.  Please consult your primary care person or one of our nurses so those factors can be included in giving you that information.

Question: Are you holding our secondary shot in reserve for us? 

     Beaudin: Yes, we are.  If you received your first shot, you will have a second shot that we will hold for you.  By that, I mean, when you are scheduled to receive your second dose at the event, there will be enough vaccine for the individuals who are requiring their second dose.

     Also, the doses arrive in a vial that contains ten doses.  So, we cannot give you the vaccine at a clinic appointment just because when we open up the vial, it needs to be used within six hours.  If we do not have enough people to give that vaccine to then, all those other doses will go to waste. 

Question: If I currently have antibodies, can I still get the vaccine? 

     Beaudin: Yes, you can still get the vaccine. 

Question: If I get the vaccine, can I still donate plasma? 

     Beaudin: I think that’s a great question.  I do not know the answer to that.  I would ask the plasma center.

     Dr. DeLong: I concur.

Question: How can we quell the fear and anxiety of taking the vaccine? 

     Dr. DeLong: As a primary care physician, I have been getting phone calls and text messages from some folks – what do you think about me getting the vaccine?  There is some hesitancy, which I think is normal because the vaccine is new.  COVID-19 is new to us.  We don’t know everything at this point in time. 

     What I have been advising people is we know that it is safe, we know that it works, we know that it is better than getting the natural infection, getting COVID-19.  I do recommend it to people.  If there is any question about you, yourself and your health condition, please talk to your primary care person. 

     I think the single most important way is to look at the information and read it and make an informed decision.  Then talk to people in your family, in your community.  A piece of advice I just gave yesterday if you’re afraid of getting the vaccine, think about getting the vaccine for your grandmother, for your grandfather.  Or if you are older, get it for your grandchildren or your great-grandchildren. 

     This is something that, in addition to protecting you from COVID-19, it also protects our family members and our community members.  It’s very similar to flu and the advice I give with that.  That if you, yourself are against getting the flu vaccine, get it for the older or younger people you live with and for your community members.

     Beaudin: I’d also like to point out that there were no short cuts taken with the vaccine trials.  Generally, what happens is that all the process happens in sequence, so they do the trials then they manufacture the vaccine, and then they push it out.  However, with this particular vaccine, everything happened at the same time.  So, while the trials were happening, the vaccine was being manufactured, which is why it seems like we have it so quickly.

     Another thing is that the mRNA vaccine doesn’t need to go through quite as many steps as the traditional vaccine does.  That is another way that it is available more quickly and at a cheaper cost. 

     Speaking of cost, the Ho-Chunk Nation is not charging for the vaccine.  It will be free to whomever receives the vaccine through us.  If you go to another site, there may be an administration fee that might be charged to either yourself or your insurance.

Question: What is the risk of getting the vaccine if you have a food allergy?

     Dr. DeLong: I actually looked at the ingredients of the Moderna vaccine, the one that we are giving, and there are no eggs in it or anything like that.  It’s a new vaccine.  If you develop a severe reaction to the first one, then you obviously don’t get the second one.  But if you have an egg allergy, it’s perfectly safe to get the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine.

     Beaudin: What we are doing to safeguard for people who do have allergies in general - we will be watching you for an extended period of time.  The normal observation time is 15 minutes.  For those with allergies to vaccine components or who have had an anaphylactic reaction in the past, we will be watching you for 30 minutes.  We have health care staff on-site, we also have the appropriate medications that we would need to administer if someone would have a severe reaction.

Question: Can tribal members who are essential workers outside the Nation be vaccinated when the Nation’s essential workers are vaccinated?  Would they need to provide documentation of being an essential worker? 

     Beaudin: Yes, they would need to provide documentation. Yes, we would allow you to come to the site.  If you could contact the registration folks, let them know you are an essential worker so they can also let the vaccine team know.

Question: How safe is it to visit a relative or friend if both got the vaccine and the booster shot? 

     Beaudin: What we do not know at this time is if the vaccine reduces transmission.  So, you should continue to wear your mask, stand six feet or more apart from one another, wash your hands, all of those good things.

     At this point, the Ho-Chunk Nation Department of Health is not recommending any changes in any policies for workplaces or anything along those lines until we know whether or not the vaccine reduces transmission.

Question: After receiving the second dose, how long does it take to become immune? 

     Dr. DeLong: Approximately two weeks.

     Beaudin: In total, we’re probably looking at almost six weeks from your first vaccine for you to have immunity at the level of 95% that they are saying for both Moderna and Pfizer.  I also want to reiterate that the vaccine is not intended to prevent the illness.  It’s preventing the severe side effects which would require an individual to receive hospitalization or, unfortunately, maybe even pass away. 

     Jon Greendeer began closing remarks with a few words spoken in the Hooc?k language.  He concluded by saying, “I just want to say thank you guys for tuning in.  We are going to do this as much as needed, making sure we have a direct connection out there.  I know our team doesn’t like to simply speak through Facebook posts and media, and bulletins and alerts.  They want to speak directly to you.  This is the best way we can right now.  I want to thank you guys for reaching out.”

     To pre-register for a Ho-Chunk Nation Department of Health COVID-19 Vaccine event, visit or call 715-284-9851.  You can register with Michelle Winneshiek at extension 35041, Jennifer Deere at extension 35092, Amanda Erickson at extension 35020, or Patient Services at extension 35545.