Research pharmacists are normally involved with new drugs on the ground level. For David Panning, he got to work on one of the most highly anticipated studies of the past decade. And instead of waiting a few years, it was only a matter of months before the studied COVID-19 drug received approval.
Not only did he watch this process unfold rapidly, he also received the drug. And he was able to use a similarly approved drug to vaccinate his great grandmother-in-law, thanks to the SAVE LIVES Act.
Panning, a research pharmacist with the VA Northeast Ohio Healthcare System in Cleveland, worked as a part of the Pfizer-BioNTech study team.
Because of his participation, he was most familiar with the vaccine handling instructions. He was the one most trusted to unpack the “small doses of hope” when they arrived in Cleveland Dec. 15.
How to get great-grandmother vaccinated
As vaccination qualifications across the country rolled out, Panning began navigating the difficult task of getting his family vaccinated.
One particularly special family member he focused on was his wife’s 100-year-old great-grandmother Elsie Dietz. Her first husband, Harold Mull, was killed in action during WWII.
Dietz doesn’t like to leave her house much, according to Panning. She had moved to Ohio during the war for a factory job. She helped support the war effort and found the people to be nice and friendly.
After the tragic loss of her husband, Dietz went on to remarry and had three children. She also had “about four grandchildren, three times as many great-grand-children and three great-great-grandchildren.”
When President Biden signed the SAVE LIVES Act into law, Panning knew he might finally have a chance to get the matriarch of his wife’s family vaccinated.
VA clinic staff and county Veterans’ office pitched in
With help from Jacki Simcox, director of the closest VA clinic, and the Columbiana County Veteran Service Commission, they verified Dietz’s connection to her late husband. They also got her into the system so VA could provide the vaccine.
Panning, his wife and son got in the car one Saturday morning and headed out on their mission to vaccinate Jack’s great-great-grandma.
They stopped at the Canton VA Clinic to pick up Dietz’s dose and took that along with supplies. They had a countdown of two-hours to administer the dose and made it with plenty of time.
“Everyone at VA was super helpful,” Panning said. “Within just a few hours of me reaching out, they got the ball rolling. It was pretty cool to see how quickly and how awesome it was to get this done after all of this time waiting through COVID.”
“VA has really been good to me”
Dietz has gotten used to staying in during the pandemic. But now she is looking forward to being able to have the entire family together again and baking her special peanut butter cookies.
When reflecting on getting the vaccine, she said her late husband would be “really proud” that his military service enabled her to get it through VA.
“VA has really been good to me,” she said. She then commended her great-grandson-in-law on his vaccination technique: “Dave did a good job. He’s a good boy.”
Those who served in the military and have discharge paperwork, regardless of eligibility for VA health care, their spouses, caregivers and CHAMPVA recipients can now get the COVID-19 vaccine through VA thanks to the SAVE LIVES Act. All VA locations across the country is implementing this enhanced eligibility. Sign up to get a COVID-19 vaccine at VA through the site linked here.
Kristen Parker is chief of the Communications & External Affairs Service for the VA Northeast Ohio Healthcare System.