Since 2018, a land area six times the size of New York City has been destroyed by loggers and miners operating illegally along the Xingu River in Brazil’s Amazon region. The recently cleared land — slashed mainly to make room for cattle ranching and timber collection — is poised to contribute to an especially destructive fire season when combined with a historic drought.

The strongest counterweights to this looming destruction are the dozens of Indigenous and traditional communities who call this land their home. Across the globe, these sorts of communities manage nearly 25 percent of the world’s lands — and those lands are home to about 80 percent of the Earth’s biodiversity, which is a crucial bulwark against climate change.

The COVID-19 pandemic, however, has called attention to the precarity of those who protect these lands as well as their rapidly disappearing ways of life; across the world, Indigenous languages have been threatened with extinction over the past year. Brazil has been particularly hard hit by the virus, experiencing 13 percent of the world’s COVID-19 deaths despite being home to just 2.7 percent of the global population.

Since the coronavirus vaccine was made available to Brazil in March, Indigenous peoples have been vaccinated at a much slower pace than all other groups, which means they still face existential threats from the virus even as they continue to have standoffs with land-grabbers and miners. This dual threat adds to the sense that Brazil’s Indigenous lands are under siege during the presidency of Jair Bolsonaro, who has enabled the development of formerly protected lands in the Amazon.

But a team of physicians, nurses, and volunteers sponsored by the U.S.-based nonprofit Health In Harmony, or HIH, is trying to combat the slow and potentially deadly pace of the vaccine rollout by offering traditional and Indigenous land protectors a helping hand. On May 27, a team from HIH, Brazil’s Federal University of Pará Medical School, and the Indigenous rights organization Instituto Socioambiental, or ISA, embarked on a three-week journey to more than 70 communities in the vicinity of the Iriri River, Xingu River, and Riozinho do Anfrisio Harvesting Reserve, a land conservation area. The team packed food, water, sleeping bags, and two boats filled with ice and 1,400 doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine. Almost all of those doses made it into arms over the next three weeks.

Read the full article about the COVID-19 vaccine and the Amazon by Adam Mahoney at Grist.