The Navajo Nation and Wisconsin show there's no 1 path to COVID-19 vaccination success

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez
(Image credit: Screenshot/YouTube/CBS News)

The Navajo Nation, which had the highest rate of COVID-19 infections anywhere in the U.S. last May, recently recorded zero cases and zero deaths in a 24-hour period, Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez noted Sunday on CBS's Face the Nation. The Navajo Nation has also vaccinated more of its population than any U.S. state — more than half the 170,000 residents of the tribal lands spanning New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah are fully vaccinated, The New York Times reports, and the nation of 300,000 enrolled members is averaging 11 infections a day, down from 250 a day in late November.

Nez said the Navajo Nation was able to tamp down COVID-19 through a strict lockdown, a year-old mask mandate, and a communal culture that convinced people to wear masks and get vaccinated. "It wasn't about restricting people's freedoms when we told people to wear a mask or to stay home," he said on Face the Nation. "It was looking at the greater good."

Tribal leaders also held town halls where experts could answer questions and address concerns about the vaccines, and the nation's decision to coordinate closely with the chronically underfunded federal Indian Health Service for vaccines proved fortuitous, the Times reports. Tribes that partnered with the Indian Health Service for vaccines are faring much better than those who used state systems, a recent NPR analysis found.

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Wisconsin has also gone from an immunization laggard in January to among the fastest and most efficient vaccination efforts in the country, The Washington Post reports. If the Navajo Nation turned its efforts around through unity, Wisconsin managed despite frequent sniping between the Republican-run state legislature and Gov. Tony Evers (D) and Andrea Palm, the acting state health secretary — acting, because the GOP Senate refused to confirm her since 2019.

Palm and her deputies focused Wisconsin's efforts on maximizing the number of public and private health care providers to deliver the vaccine, rather than using a few large vaccination centers. That was a labor-intensive process that slowed things down at first, the Post reports, but it prepared Wisconsin for a quick ramp-up without the urban-rural disparity seen in other states, and the reliance on smaller local providers should give the state a leg up as supply surpasses demand. You can read more about Wisconsin's turnaround, and how it might affect Palm's nomination to be President Biden's deputy Health and Human Services secretary, at The Washington Post.

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Peter Weber

Peter Weber is a senior editor at, and has handled the editorial night shift since the website launched in 2008. A graduate of Northwestern University, Peter has worked at Facts on File and The New York Times Magazine. He speaks Spanish and Italian and plays bass and rhythm cello in an Austin rock band. Follow him on Twitter.