Tribal Elders Among First Protected with COVID Vaccine

Tribal Elders Among First Protected with COVID Vaccine

By Lisa Pemberton, Puyallup Tribal News Editor

In late December, former Puyallup Tribal Chairwoman Ramona Bennett, Cultural Director Connie McCloud, Elders Advisory Board Member Teddy Simchen and Charlene Matheson, past Chair of the Elders Advisory Board, and were among the first Tribal Elders to get COVID-19 vaccines. Residents and staff at the House of Respect also received the vaccine.

Bennett described the shot as “relatively painless.”

“It’s terrible that all you see (on TV) is needles that look like railroad spikes, but the needles that they actually use are very tiny,” she said. “I will say my shoulder was a tiny bit sore for a few days, but that’s nothing. As an older person, I had classmates who were crippled for life, or died, from polio. And then mumps, measles and chicken pox used to really knock kids out – sometimes taking their vision or hearing. …I know the value of these vaccinations. They make a huge difference.”

Puyallup Tribal Health Authority Clinical Director Dr. Alan Shelton, who also serves as Medical Director for the Puyallup Tribe, described the vaccine as “a game changer.”

“This means that there is a turning point in this pandemic,” he said. “We can ensure the safety of our people. Please get vaccinated when you get the chance!”

Between Dec. 23-30, 113 Elders and staff received the first doses, and there were no serious side effects, said Russ Hanscom, RN, MHA, Elder Services Executive Director. There were only a few complaints of arm pain and increased fatigue. One staff member and Elder anticipated, and then experienced, moderate side effects including nausea, vomiting and headaches. Both feel relieved and plan to get their booster in about four weeks, Hanscom said.

“We’re hopeful family members of the residents at The House of Respect will get vaccinated this month so we can safely resume visitation of Elders shortly after everyone gets the second booster,” he added.

Once Elders and frontline workers were vaccinated, the vaccines were made available to all adult Tribal Members. After that, the clinic began offering the vaccine to any of its adult patients.

On Jan. 4, PTHA held a drive-thru clinic near the former I-5 EQC Event in Tacoma, and 136 people received vaccines. Tribal Administration employees were invited to participate in drive-thru clinics from Jan. 6-8.

Councilmembers share their vaccine experiences

In recent weeks, Puyallup Tribal Chairman Bill Sterud, and Councilmembers David Bean, Annette Bryan, Anna Bean and James Rideout have shared their personal vaccine experiences on social media.

Sterud was the first person to get the shot at PTHA on Dec. 23. In a video message, he said he was thankful for Dr. Shelton and all of the frontline workers who have been part of the COVID-19 pandemic response.

“I would hope each Tribal Member, when they get the opportunity, comes to get their shot,” Sterud said.

Bryan said she decided to get the shot because they are asking Members to get vaccinated.

“I wouldn’t ask them to take anything I wouldn’t take myself,” Bryan said. “We are so blessed that our community is able to get vaccinated to help stop the spread of the virus.”

Anna Bean said she thought the idea of the vaccine was scary, at first, but she did her own research.

“I did not take the shot to protect myself,” she said. “I took the shot to protect my loved ones and our community I want to be with again.”

Rideout said he felt an obligation to keep the community safe from the spread of the virus.

“I am constantly researching and in contact with medical professionals for updates and additional information regarding this issue,” he said. “For me…I wanted to keep our staff and our membership as safe as possible. Our people should be kept safe sound and secure.”

David Bean posted a video on the PTHA’s Facebook page after his vaccination.

“We trust this vaccine, and you should to,” he said. “We have to take every step we can to defeat this COVID and reduce the number of infections.”

To learn more about the vaccine and how the Tribe is administering it, please visit