Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital reached a major milestone April 17, distributing its 50,000th COVID-19 vaccine to the Chicago area.

Initially offering vaccines to only first responders and high-risk Veterans, Hines rapidly expanded its eligibility. Through the SAVE LIVES Act, it began began offering vaccines to all Veterans, regardless of VA health care enrollment or discharge type, as well as spouses and caregivers.

Now, 53% of Veterans receiving health care at Hines have received at least one dose either through Hines, its six outpatient clinics, or its homeless and homebound care outreach programs.

“It would be pretty cool if I was number 50,000,” said Army Veteran Douglas Miller. “I just had my birthday, so it would be like a double celebration, but, really, I’m just happy being vaccinated.”

For Miller (pictured above), the choice to become vaccinated was easy but important.

“I decided to get vaccinated to stay safe and stay healthy for my family and myself,” he said. “I feel like it’s the right thing to do. I feel like people need to protect their community.”

Miller is not alone.

“My husband just called up and asked if I could come in,” Martina Zamora said after receiving her first shot. “It’s been nice. I was surprised it was so fast. I’ve only been here 30 minutes.”

While patients are pleased with the efficiency, many are also eager about what community vaccination could mean and why it’s essential.

Getting vaccinated quickest way back to normal

“It’s been a long year,” Miller said. “It’s time to get back to whatever new normal we’re looking for and getting vaccinated is really the quickest way to get to it.”

Some people are hesitant to receive the COVID-19 vaccine because of what they’ve heard or read online. However, according to Lena Huang, a pharmacist at the vaccination site, the vaccines offered are safe. Minor side effects, such as a sore arm for a few days, are far outweighed by the risks associated with COVID-19.

“It’s a life-saving vaccine. Why take the chance? Get here, get your vaccination,” said Eddie Harris, an Army Veteran receiving his second dose. “I saw the sickness and deaths so I know it has to be done for the good of the country.”

“We’re all in this together”

“Vaccination is a safe and effective tool against COVID-19,” said James Doelling, hospital director. “We reached an incredible milestone but we can’t stop with 50,000. We need to keep growing that number if we’re going to beat this.”

Finished with his second Pfizer vaccination, Miller agreed, “We’re all in this together.”

To learn more about the COVID-19 vaccine, visit www.va.gov/health-care/covid-19-vaccine.

Matthew Moeller is a public affairs specialist for the Edward Hines, Jr. VA Hospital.

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