VA utilizes several ways to provide vaccines to as many Veterans as possible. Here are just a few of the many scenarios at VA medical centers across the country.
Before many people wake up each day, South Texas VA pharmacy staff are already busy at work, preparing hundreds of doses of the COVID-19 vaccination for the first of many COVID vaccination clinics.
This first clinic was designated for Veterans over the age of 75.
The army of volunteer staff was ready, covering all bases. Veterans were invited inside to stay warm and enjoy hot coffee, water and doughnuts. Staff set up the largest waiting room in its history, putting out 140 physically distanced chairs that stretched through multiple hallways.
The Experience Office valet and concierge staff whisked many Veterans from their vehicles to the front door to shield this group of senior Veterans from an unusually cold Texas morning.
Lois Matt (pictured above), an Air Force medevac nurse for 27 years, was grateful. “You all are so great here and this is very well run,” he said. In the holding area, Matt saw someone she recognized. She asked the man about his service and found out he was on a flight back to the states on one of the medevacs where she provided care.
San Antonio Veteran encourages fellow Veterans to come to VA
One Veteran, who said she appreciated the speed of the clinics, was Air Force Veteran Susanne Waylett. “I feel very blessed to get in today. During COVID-19 I have been cooking and baking for all of my neighbors who are all elderly, so I need to stay healthy for them.”
Waylett also jumped at the opportunity to challenge her fellow Veterans to take advantage of the clinics. “I encourage all of you to come to VA. The wait wasn’t very long, and the staff is wonderful, so get your vaccination and let’s keep San Antonio safe.”
She received hers at the Frank M. Tejeda Clinic where Primary Care Chief Nurse Nancy Bowen was orchestrating her volunteer staff of nurses to get the Veterans through the process as seamlessly as possible. With future clinics upcoming, the team is always looking to improve efficiency.
“We had a lot of feedback from the Veterans on how well they thought the process went,” Bowen said. “We continue to look for better workflow to make sure we are maintaining social distance and keeping everyone safe.”
Thawed the perfect amount
The clinic’s Chief of Pharmacy Peter Trang said that “The staff were ready to assist with Veteran movements, and because we had good communication among services and leadership, we were able to keep vaccinations moving all day. All I heard the whole day from Veterans and caregivers was how well we had managed the vaccination process. We received numerous compliments.”
The need for efficiency just doesn’t apply to Veterans. It also applies to the vaccine itself. Because of the prep time, there is a risk of doses going unused. Trang said they thawed the perfect amount and will use the rest of the vaccinations in the upcoming days to avoid any waste.
Korean War Veteran first Veteran to receive vaccine in Pensacola
Army Veteran Joe L. Knight, 87, who served in the Korean War and three tours in Vietnam, was the first non-employee Veteran in the Pensacola, Florida, area to receive the COVID-19 vaccination.
“It’s an honor to provide this Veteran – a service member whose call to duty spanned nearly thirty years – this vaccine,” said Alicia Miller, associate director of Outpatient Operations. “Mr. Knight fought in some of our country’s greatest conflicts and providing him the tools to continue his fight today against this unseen enemy represents what we are all about, providing care for those who have served their country.
“We first provided vaccinations to our front-line health care workers and our Veterans residing in our Community Living Center,” Miller continued. “Our health care workers were among the first to receive vaccinations because they are at high risk for contracting and spreading COVID-19 to other staff members and patients. Their health is critical to ensuring the continued care of our Veterans.”
Miller also stressed that Veterans interested in receiving the vaccine are encouraged to complete the Keep Me Informed Form, a VA initiative designed to capture Veterans’ interest in receiving the vaccine and an effort to keep Veterans informed of VA’s vaccination process.
Information from the form can assist a Veteran’s care team prepare for an eligible person’s vaccination.
Veterans can learn more about VA’s plan for COVID-19 vaccination at the VA Coronavirus Vaccine FAQs webpage.
Veterans who have questions about how COVID-19 affects their VA health and benefits should visit the Veteran Coronavirus FAQs.
South Texas VA inoculates first Veteran with COVID-19 vaccine
Nurse Christine Salonga rolled up the sleeve of Navy and Coast Guard Veteran Roy De La Garza and administered the COVID-19 vaccine. He was the first patient at the San Antonio VA to receive it.
De La Garza is used to rolling up his sleeves, first enlisting and becoming a Navy electrician, then raising his hand again as a volunteer for this historical occasion.
De La Garza has been a resident at the hospitals’ Community Living Center for a year. He said he is ready for the toll of the coronavirus to be over, citing the many American lives lost.
Besides eradicating the virus, De La Garza has a personal reason to be vaccinated. That reason is his new baby great granddaughter, who he has only been able to see through a glass partition. This virus has also touched his family, infecting his daughter and another granddaughter.
Because of patient safety, CLC residents are not permitted to have direct contact with visitors, so the staff has come up with inventive ways to maintain contact and minimize isolation, like drive by visits, virtual meetings and Facebook portals.
Several units with high risk Veteran populations
South Texas VA hospital Director Christopher Sandles said that “It’s been a double-edged sword for us. The community living center, spinal cord injury unit and bone marrow transplant units have been high risk populations, and CLC residents have been kept physically isolated. We’ve done that for their physical protection.”
Emergency Department Chief Dr. Samuel Munro was the first employee vaccinated. His work in the emergency department puts him in the high-risk category, but that isn’t his only reason. “Even if I did not work in the ED, I would have elected to receive the COVID vaccination,” Munro said.
Being on the front line, he has seen the worst the coronavirus has brought onto the community.
“This disease tends to hit the folks that are more susceptible harder than anything else,” he said. “While it’s a bad illness, if you have chronic illnesses – hypertension, diabetes, other illnesses – it really knocks you down, and the long-term effects are devastating. I encourage everyone to get the vaccine.”
Director Sandles talked about how diligently staff have been working to roll out the vaccine but says it is well worth it because he believes the vaccine is a light at the end of the tunnel.
Roy De La Garza and his great granddaughter are counting on it.
Salt Lake City nurse first to receive vaccine
It was a moment of hope when they needed it most.
After months of waiting, health care workers at the Salt Lake City VA received 2,200 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.
ER Registered Nurse Pamela Makris was the first employee to receive the vaccine.
But for Makris, it was more than just a shot.
It means no more sorrow-filled shifts of Veterans suffering, no more changing in the garage out of fear of spreading the virus to her husband and children, and no more unneeded deaths.
Applause erupted from the small group of coworkers who witnessed the event.
“This is an epic moment for all our health care workers,” she said. “It has been a terrifying experience, but we’re moving forward and it’s almost done.”
Employees will work 12-hour shifts
“Our goal is to provide the COVID-19 vaccination to all Veterans and employees who want to be vaccinated,” Salt Lake City VA Director Shella Stovall said. “By vaccinating our high-risk personnel first, we can continue to care for our Veterans amid the pandemic.”
For Bruce Bilodeau, assistant chief pharmacy, the vaccine’s arrival was a relief.
“I’m very excited,” Bilodeau said. “It’s safe, it’s effective, and if we get enough people vaccinated, we can probably knock this thing right out.”
Employees will need to work 12 stations, logging 12-hour shifts to vaccinate VA’s goal of 200 people a day. But Bilodeau said protecting coworkers and Veterans was more than worth the effort.
For Makris, the vaccine means a return to normalcy.
“It’s a step forward to resume our life as we knew it before the vaccine,” he said. “And most importantly, to help the Veteran population.”
Throughout the medical center, there was a renewed energy – a certain feeling that employees hadn’t felt in a long time.
That feeling was hope.