Veterans and military members received answers to COVID-19 vaccine questions from senior medical and military leaders during a virtual session Feb. 4.
The forum covered a wide variety of questions about the vaccine, including the effectiveness, availability and length of protection.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, started the panel by addressing the sobering statistics. He said COVID-19, which has killed more than 430,000 Americans, is still killing more than 3,000 Americans a day.
“That is the sobering and sad news,” Fauci said. “But, the light at the end of the tunnel is the extraordinary success that we’ve had with the vaccine development program.”
Fauci said Americans have received more than 32 million vaccines from the two approved, with four more under development. While millions already received the vaccine, he said some still have questions whether to get the vaccine. He noted that the two vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech had more than 74,000 trials. Fauci cited the “extraordinary” 94-95% effective rate, then added that there were no cut corners or safety issues – two facts independently verified by scientists.
“That’s the reason why many of you hear me, every day in the media, saying when your turn comes up, please get vaccinated both for your own safety, for that of your family and that for the American community in general,” he said.
Fauci also answered a question about the length of effectiveness. Because vaccinations are still in the early stages, medical leaders are still gathering data on the effective length.
“We hope it’s longer than a year,” Fauci said.
The doctor also said that those with autoimmune disease often ask if they should receive the vaccine. He said that that’s even “more reason” to receive a vaccine – to prevent serious complications or death.
Fauci then addressed a question about how the messenger RNA vaccine works. Other vaccines put a weakened or inactivated germ into a person’s body. Messenger RNA vaccines teach human cells how to make a protein that triggers an immune response. That immune response produces antibodies.
The RNA decays after a few days and does not enter a person’s DNA. The technology, he said, dates back over a decade.
Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Ramón “CZ” Colón-López said he recently received his second dose of the vaccine.
“I’m glad to say that I had a sore arm that subsided within a day as the only side effect,” said the senior enlisted advisor to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “I credit much of that with staying healthy and fit.”
Dr. Richard Stone, the acting under secretary for health at the Veterans Health Administration, said receiving a COVID-19 vaccine was a “personal decision.” He advised Veterans to talk to their medical provider at their VA facility.
Stone said the immunocompromised are at a greater risk for COVID-19, including severe complications. He said VA is focusing on high-risk Veterans first.
“We’re prioritizing based on risk,” Stone said. He added that vaccine companies are ramping up production, which will greatly increase the number of Veterans who can receive the vaccine. He said the faster Veterans get vaccines, the faster Veterans can resume normal lives.
“None of us are going to be able to resume our lives and be able to get out and do the things we want to do until we get to the point of 60 or 70% of the American population immunized,” he said.
Stone also highlighted VA’s efforts, which includes administering over one million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to Veterans and VA health care workers. He also said designated family caregivers of Veterans participating in the Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers can receive COVID-19 testing and vaccinations.
Blue Star Families and the American Red Cross hosted the event. Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Army Lt. Gen. Ronald Place, director of the Defense Health Agency, also provided information during the forum.
Read about a new rollout tool that notifies high-risk Vets when to expect their vaccine: https://blogs.va.gov/VAntage/84122/new-tool-notifies-vets-vaccine/.
To get the latest updates and sign up to stay informed about COVID-19 vaccines, visit https://www.va.gov/health-care/covid-19-vaccine/.
View the VA COVID-19 Vaccination Distribution Plan: https://www.publichealth.va.gov/docs/n-coronavirus/VHA-COVID-Vaccine-Plan-14Dec2020.pdf.