GRIC Rolls Out First Large-Scale Vaccination Event

Christopher Lomahquahu

Gila River Indian News


A combined task force of members from the Gila River Indian Community, Gila River Health Care and other agencies, worked together to get vaccinations to Gila River Hotels & Casinos employees at a drive-thru event. The Gila River Indian Community began its large-scale vaccination event at the Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park on Feb. 13. 


The vaccination event was made possible through a coordinated effort between the Gila River Office of Emergency Management, GRHC, Gila River EMS, Gila River Police Department, Gila River Fire Department, WHPMP and the Arizona National Guard. Representatives from each agency formed a small army to ensure 985 casino and Wild Horse Pass Development Authority employees received their vaccination. 


The large GRIC vaccination event, is an unprecedented undertaking for an American Indian community, such as GRIC, which has set out to provide hundreds of vaccinations in one day. This initiative, includes plans for another large vaccination event in the Community on Feb. 20. 


Cultural Preservation Officer Barnaby Lewis provided a traditional blessing over everyone in attendance before the start of the vaccination event. Lewis’ blessing was followed with remarks by Gov. Stephen Roe Lewis and representatives from the Community who helped organize the vaccination event. “What we are doing today is going to be saving lives, it is historic,” said Gov. Lewis. He adds, “You guys are the heroes during this pandemic, the first responders, of our military, our healthcare workers, all of you front-line workers.” He said before the COVID-19 vaccine was available, there was a sense of playing “defense,” but now with the availability of the vaccine, it is time to be on the “offense,” of combating the pandemic. 


Saturday’s vaccination event, was a prelude to a planned Feb. 20 event to immunize GRIC members and families, who reside on and off the Community, over the age of 18.  For the upcoming vaccination drive-thru event, Community members will need to have their tribal identification ready to check-in. They, will be directed to go through four stations, which consist of filling out a consent form, a registration form, and then administration of the vaccination. Before they can leave the area, they will need to wait at an observation station for any symptoms that develop from the vaccine. 


“We have done nearly 5,800 vaccines in the Community, today we have nearly 100 of our staff out here, doing the registration and the vaccinations and we will have more staff out here next week as well,” said Dr. Antony Santiago. CEO for GRHC. Santiago said GRHC has been administering the Pfizer and Moderna versions of the COVID-19 vaccine and that both are equally effective against the virus.


He said GRHC has been steadily rolling out vaccination sites throughout out the Community at its facilities and others. “[We] are giving vaccines six days a week at the primary care departments at the Huhukam Memorial Hospital, Komatke Health Center and District 3 and 6 Boys & Girls Club. We have a lot of teams, but we are redeploying them to be here,” said Santiago. 

Lewis lauded GRHC staff and essential workers for their efforts, while on the “front-line” of responding to the pandemic, those individuals who wear different hats or represent different organizations, who have unified for one purpose of an incredibly historic vaccination event in Indian Country. 


“I want to thank you all personally as a community member, I am just so thankful for all of you for coming together and being boots on the ground,” said Candalerian Preston, Tribal Health Director. She added from a public health perspective, the vaccination event is a huge undertaking to administer the vaccine to hundreds of individuals at one single event. Preston encouraged the Community’s elders to get vaccinated at the large GRIC members event or at their nearest vaccination location at a GRHC facility or D3 and D6 B&G Club.