Where a returns counter once stood is now occupied by South Texas VA staff checking enrollment paperwork. Where hat and umbrella displays stood for sale, protecting San Antonians from an unforgiving sun, are now rows of nurses ready to vaccinate Veterans, their spouses, previously ineligible Veterans and other groups against an equally unforgiving virus.
The South Texas Veterans Health Care System acquired a lease in a vacant department store at a popular westside mall. Mid-April, it began using the extra space to accommodate the provisions of the SAVE LIVES Act.
The act expands the COVID-19 vaccination to anyone who has served in the military, caregivers and spouses. The vaccination was previously only available to registered Veterans and certain caregivers.
One of those spouses who was thankful to receive her shot is also a caregiver. Bree Loggins is an Army spouse and found it difficult to get vaccinated. For her, it was critically important.
“My mom is going through chemo for cancer, so the sooner we could get vaccinated, the better,” she said. “This was really my best shot having VA opening it up to spouses.”
Bree said it was not easy finding a vaccine for herself in San Antonio. “I work in a child care center,” she added. “I’ve tried to get it through the military base but the base doesn’t have any and I don’t qualify for the state because I’m not a state-qualified teacher.”
Glad to take advantage of SAVE LIVES Act
A Veteran named William waited for his wife so they could get vaccinated together. He was nervous about bringing COVID into the home. “It’s important for me to get it because I work at a distribution center and we’ve had a total of nine people catch it,” he said.
Even though he was contacted by the healthcare team to get his vaccine, William was glad that he waited and took advantage of the SAVE LIVES Act. He said the clinic was easy to navigate from parking to being released after the 15-minute observation period.
The entire process only took one hour. The couple was happy it fit in their busy schedules.
The sprawling department store was a natural fit to host the event, enabling the staff to spread out and socially distance so they could safely vaccinate the large population.
Vietnam helicopter mechanic used to needles
“When I first saw the vaccine clinics start, I didn’t want to go to the main hospital and stand in line,” said Santos Cantu, who was used to vaccinations from the days of his Vietnam service as a helicopter mechanic. He said it took a bit of convincing to get his wife to join him, though.
“I saw it on the news, so I wanted to check it out,” he added. “She is afraid of needles and all that. I am a Veteran so I have no problem.”
Edolina, Cantu’s wife, said she overcame her fear by just not looking at the injection. She said it was over quick and did not hurt her.
VA nurse, Marine Corps Veteran: Patients my boyhood heroes
Increasing those ranks of the vaccinated is why Marine Corps Veteran nurse Nick Huang enjoys vaccinating at the clinic. “Vaccination has been an absolute delight. Vaccination is the offensive effort against COVID,” he said.
Huang spent a majority of the surge battling to keep patients alive in the South Texas COVID units and he said working proactively is a welcomed change of pace.
The reasons for receiving were just as diverse as the patients. Although sharing similar levels of apprehension from the Cantus, Yoli and Sil Huron had different sources of reluctance.
Sitting in the first row, Yoli (pictured above) looked nervous as she was next up to receive the shot. “I have never gotten a vaccination before for anything, this is the first time,” she said.
“Lord, if you provide for me, I will do it.”
To reassure herself, Yoli turned to someone other than the CDC. “I prayed a lot. I just said, Lord, if you provide for me, I will do it.”
She wanted to get vaccinated so she and her husband could get back to the things they enjoyed doing together. “He goes down to Mexico a lot because we are missionaries,” she said. “After he came back from the clinic after getting his vaccine, he set the filled-out spousal paperwork down in front of me and told me that I can go get mine and that he would take me and stay with me while I got it.”
Huang received great feedback from and feels blessed to help him stay healthy. “I’m glad I was able to take the fight to the enemy.”
Steven Goetsch is a public affairs specialist with the South Texas Veterans Health Care System.