Of all the communities in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta with public vaccination data, Mekoryuk on Nunivak Island has the highest amount of its eligible population vaccinated against COVID-19. Ninety-eight percent of residents age 16 and older have gotten their shots. Meet the mother-daughter health aide team who has helped their community reach this goal.
Linda and Shara Davis are Mekoryuk’s two health aides. Linda started working as a health aide for the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation in Mekoryuk 13 years ago. Shara, her daughter, began working in the same position soon after.
“We understand each other,” Linda said. “Not only a good co-worker, but a friend, and my daughter.”
“I like working with my mom,” Shara said. “We support each other a lot, and we’re always there helping each other.”
Many Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta communities face high turnover for health aides, and some communities have no health aides for long stretches. Working together has helped keep these two family members in their roles for over a decade.
“We support each other a lot, and we work well together,” Shara said.
When the pandemic struck, that collaboration helped Mekoryuk’s response. Shara remembers the moment when life changed. She had just returned home from a trip to Hawaii.
“When I came back, I had to do daily temperature checks, and I haven’t left since,” Shara said.
Then her son’s preschool shut down. Shara switched to working part-time so she could be home to help her son with classes.
The community enacted strict health precautions. Anyone flying into Mekoryuk needed permission from the tribe to exit the plane. Residents took social distancing and masks seriously, and cases stayed low. No one in the community died from the virus.
Then, in December, the vaccine arrived in the region. In January, the health corporation opened vaccinations to everyone age 16 and older. Shara and Linda got vaccinated and worked to educate everyone on the island about the vaccine. The key was constant and personal communication.
“Announcing on the VHF, calling patients, reaching out one-by-one,” Shara said.
A lot of people wanted to know about possible reactions to the vaccine. Shara and Linda put some residents in contact with doctors at YKHC to answer their questions.
About 200 people live in Mekoryuk; about 120 of them are old enough for the vaccine. Nearly all have chosen to get it, and most people had two reasons that they wanted to be vaccinated.
“A lot of people in our community did want to protect our Elders and our children, since the children can’t get the COVID vaccine yet,” Shara said.
The community also wanted to get its students back in the classroom. In early March, that became possible. After months of lockdown, Shara’s 6-year-old son joined his kindergarten class in person.
“He was so excited to go back to school,” Shara said. “He kept counting down the days. He missed his friends, he missed his teachers.”
Other than school reopening, Linda and Shara say that vaccination has not changed life on the island. People still mask and social distance, and travel restrictions remain in place. But mother and daughter feel a sense of ease that didn’t exist before, and the days of being able to gather with the community they’ve worked to protect feel closer.
“Basketball or volleyball or fiddles,” Shara said, listing what she is most looking forward to once health restrictions lift.
“Also being able to visit family in other places,” Linda added.
What will make these gatherings possible, Shara and Linda say, is more people across the entire region getting vaccinated against the virus.