Russian Orthodox priests were often trained to give vaccinations, and vaccinations were routinely given to Alaska Natives sent to Russia to study. Other Native people, particularly those living close to Russian posts, received vaccinations from Russian American Company officials as part of local health care efforts.
Despite efforts to protect people from smallpox, early vaccination programs were not always successful. Vaccines were in short supply and not always reliable. They had to be shipped great distances to reach Alaska and sometimes lost their potency during travel. Additionally, Native people were often reluctant to be vaccinated. To ease their concerns, the Russians trained Native people to give vaccinations. In the fall of 1828, an Alutiiq man traveled to Kodiak’s rural communities providing inoculations. Tragically, however, vaccination did not reach far enough into the Kodiak Alutiiq population, and the 1837 smallpox epidemic had a devastating impact. Nearly five hundred people died in just six months.