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Navajo Nation leader marks COVID-19 progress, but won’t get flu shot

The sun sets behind a basketball hoop and backboard at Dinehdeal family compound in Tuba City, Ariz., on the Navajo reservation on April 20, 2020. The reservation has some of the highest rates of coronavirus in the country. If Navajos are susceptible to the virus' spread in part because they are so closely knit, that's also how many believe they will beat it. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

SALT LAKE CITY — The leader of the Navajo Nation celebrated great progress made in the fight against COVID-19, but said he does not plan to get the flu shot this fall. 

For the first time since March, the Navajo Nation, which includes portions of Utah, Arizona and New Mexico, saw no new coronavirus cases on Tuesday. 

At the end of July, the Navajo Nation experienced COVID-19 infection rates that were among the highest per capita in the United States, CNN reported.

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez spoke to Lee Lonsberry on Live Mic about the good news, but expressed his doubts about the flu shot and a possible COVID-19 vaccine as well.

Nez said he was thankful for Navajo citizens adhering to public health protocols given by the territory’s leaders. He also commended residents for their hard work fighting the pandemic. 

But he warned that the Navajo need to prepare for a possible second wave of coronavirus spreading throughout the region with the upcoming flu season.

Flu shot

Lee asked Nez whether he planned to encourage Navajo Nation residents to get a flu shot.

“I am encouraging our health care facilities to offer flu shots right now throughout the Navajo Nation,” he said. “The choice is up to the individual to get the flu shot. We’re not going to mandate people to get the flu shot. But we are going to have that available.”

Lee asked Nez if he would be receiving a flu shot.

“You know, I’ve never gotten a flu shot. I consider myself healthy. I’m a runner. I’m a plant-based eater. We should have a discussion nationwide or worldwide. We don’t hear about building up your immune system as much as we should,” Nez said. 

He added that if a person can strengthen the immune system through physical fitness and diet, he or she is less prone to viruses. He said he doesn’t ingest any “foreign chemicals.”

“If I need to be a model of leadership for people to take the flu shot, maybe I’ll  reconsider,” Nez said.

COVID-19 vaccine

Lee asked Nez if the coronavirus vaccine proved to be safe and effective, would he get one?

“Based on what I saw on the news last night, there are questions about the vaccine out there,” he replied.  “. . . I think for all of us, we have to make sure that any type of vaccine doesn’t have long-term damaging effect to the body.”

He said he was open to having Navajo Nation citizens be a part of a vaccine clinical trials if they chose to be involved.

Lee said he will be receiving a flu shot this season. When the FDA says it’s safe to get a COVID-19 vaccine, he said he will be getting that as well.

Live Mic with Lee Lonsberry can be heard weekdays from 12:30 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. on KSL NewsRadio. Users can find the show on the KSL NewsRadio website and app.