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COVID-19 and Native Children

~ Paula Raimondo


The United States Centers for Disease Control (CDC) began

recommending COVID-19 vaccine for children five to eleven

years of age in early November 2021.  In the United States,

people who identify as American Indian or Alaska Native,

along with other minorities, have been disproportionately

affected by COVID-19. For example, as of early May 2020 in the Navajo Nation, the mortality and infection rates are higher than in most states. These disparities have also emerged among children. 

“COVID-19 cases in children can result in hospitalizations, deaths, and long-term complications, such as ‘long COVID,’ in which symptoms can linger for months. The spread of the Delta variant resulted in a surge of COVID-19 cases in children throughout the summer. During a 6-week period in late June to mid-August, COVID-19 hospitalizations among children and adolescents increased fivefold.  Hospitalization rates 3 times as high for non-Hispanic Black, non-Hispanic American Indian/Alaska Native, and Hispanic children as for non-Hispanic White children”.  (Hills, S.D., et al. COVID-19-associated orphanhood and caregiver death in the United States.  Pediatrics (October 7, 2021) DOI:10.1542/peds.2021-053760)

Studies have shown that Native and other American minorities are at greater educational risk during the pandemic than their white counterparts.  About 25% of school age kids lack either a computer or high-speed internet.  This situation makes it impossible for them to keep up in class or do their homework.  The closing of library buildings and other locations that provide computer access has complicated the situation.

COVID-19 has also disproportionately impacted Native youth by leaving children without caregivers.  The National Institutes of Health calculates that about 1 out of 500 children in the U.S. has become orphaned due to the COVID-related death of a caregiver.  The numbers are worse for minority children. Between April 1, 2020, and June 30, 2021, approximately one out of every 168 American Indian/Alaska Native children has experienced orphanhood or the death of caregivers because of COVID.

Following are resources that cover COVID in children, including information about vaccinations.  Five websites specifically address Native American and Alaskan Native children.

American Indian and Alaska Native Grandfamilies: Helping children thrive through connection to family and cultural identity National Indian Child Welfare Association.

The COVID-19 pandemic is the latest crisis to have elevated the needs of grandfamilies, including the needs of American Indian and Alaska Native families, who are being disproportionally impacted by the pandemic. This latest crisis is highlighting the challenges faced by American Indian and Alaska Native grandfamilies, including the complex service systems they must navigate as citizens of two nations – the United States and their sovereign tribe. Supports and services also vary depending on whether the children are in the legal custody of a child welfare system with their kin providing the care or whether they are not at all involved with that system.

Best practices for creating compelling COVID019 related messaging for AIAN youth on Tok-tok  Healthy Native Youth.

A guide for spreading information about COVID to Native and Alaskan youth using the social app TikTok, an app for posting short videos.

Community Protectors: Children Help Communities Stay Safe from COVID-19

A story and coloring book about staying safe from COVID-19.  Educate Native children on ways they can stay safe and help protect their communities from the spread of COVID-19 with this free, downloadable book.

COVID-19 Vaccines for Children and Teens U. S. Centers for Disease Control.

Information about vaccines for children and teens. Learn about myths and facts or get answers to frequently asked questions about COVID-19 vaccines for children from the CDC.

Find COVID-19 Vaccines

Search for COVID vaccines and boosters by zip code and manufacturer.

Health Resource Library for Native American Communities Center for American Indian Health.

Resources for parents include a covid-29 Child Vaccine Toolkit, and a COVID 19 vaccines for children 5-11: what parents need to know factsheet.

Helping children cope with changes resulting from COVID-19 National Association of School Psychologists.

Families across the country are adapting to the evolving changes in daily life caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Parents and other caregivers are faced with helping their families adjust to the new normal. This includes trying to keep children occupied, feeling safe, and attempting to keep up with schoolwork as best as possible.

How Schools Can Support COVID-19 Vaccination  U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

On this page, the CDC provides steps school leaders can take to support COVID-19 vaccination and to improve health literacy among staff, students, and families in their community. The actions school districts decide to take will depend on state and local policies, health service infrastructure, and available resources.

Know What to Expect at Your Child’s K-12 School or Early Care and Education Program  U. S. Centers for Disease Control.

COVID-19 outbreaks can happen in schools and early care and education (ECE) programs. CDC understands the importance of in-person learning. Studies from the previous school year have shown that using multiple prevention strategies can keep children, teachers, and staff safe and keep schools and ECE programs open.

Virtual adaptation guide: Healthy native youth  Northwest Portland Area Indian Health Board.

The Virtual Adaptation Guide is designed to support communities in adapting their in-person programming to virtual programming during the COVID-19 pandemic.