Winnebago shares the secret to vaccine success

WINNEBAGO --  The highest levels of vaccination in the state of Nebraska is teetering above 50% in metro cities. But for the Winnebago Tribe, the percent of those vaccinated is above 70%.

Winnebago's goal now is to reach 80%, at which point officials said they might celebrate with a modest cake.

"It's up to the community," Public Health Administrator Mona Zuffante said.

But it wasn't just the crowd arbitrarily deciding to support the fight against COVID-19. Many leaders in Winnebago acted swiftly and proactively to fight the pandemic. They created a committee to respond to the pandemic, with sub-committees to deal with individual issues (schooling; food insecurity; healthcare).

Then, the tribal council identified stakeholders and encouraged them to lead others. In fact, the first to be vaccinated was a veteran who worked in healthcare. Zuffante said it set an example. "Veterans are highly regarded in Indigenous country," she said, explaining that people saw the action as executive leadership setting an example. 

Winnebago also demonstrated a wide representation of people such as grandmothers, teachers, etc. who were getting vaccines, showing people this was safe for demographics such as pregnant woman and something the community supported. 

"One person said 'Yep I came in because my grandma set the stage,'" Zuffante said, "and even a veteran said yep I saw an elder come in and so I wanted to follow their footsteps."

Plus, the Winnebago Healthcare System shared education through engaging videos

Zuffante said their success is a story of coordination and continuous communication  -- something small, tight communities thrive at. 

"Not every community is like ours but they can still achieve it," she said. 

Zuffante also recommends health clinics keep in mind backup plans and multiple methods of communication when it comes to health crises; not everyone can check their email and not everyone will read a flyer. Multiple avenues of information dissemination were necessary. 

While the tribe also went a long time without active cases, they do have 6 active cases this week -- each case of unvaccinated persons.

Zuffante hopes people keep in mind, "It was important that when it was our time that each of us stepped up. I believe it's because our ancestors did that for us so that we could be here."

Winnebago offers vaccines at, or you can call 402-878-2258. The clinic right now is at the Winnebago Public School.

All those vaccinated are invited to attend their Powwow Homecoming, organized by veterans, on July 23