VA provides vaccines to 593 veterans

U.S. Marine Veteran Douglas Madsen (at left) gives a “thumbs up” sign after receiving his first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. At center, Tammy Ortiz, advanced medical support assistant at the Kerrville VA Medical Center, helps register local veterans to receive their vaccines during a community clinic held over the weekend. At right, VA Pharmacy Supervisor Dr. Joshua Rodgers delivers vaccines to one of two vaccine stations set up inside the VA Hospital on Saturday.

COVID-19 vaccines continue to flow in the arms of local residents, as nearly 600 local military veterans were inoculated during a community clinic hosted by the Kerrville VA Medical Center on Saturday, Jan. 16.

The event was well-organized by administrators, with the ultimate goal being to limit long lines and wait times for participants.

“We were scheduled to begin the clinic at 9 a.m., but by 7:30 (a.m.) we already had a line forming, so we started early,” Kerrville VA Medical Center Administrator Lance Maley said.

During the clinic, Maley said appointments were taken in advance and walk-ins were welcomed.

“We weren’t sure what to expect, but we knew we had 302 veterans who made appointments,” Maley said.

By 12:30 p.m., 548 vaccines had been administered.

“We have two vaccinations set up on two different floors of the hospital,” Maley said. “There are eight nurses administering vaccinations. We have been monitoring the process since we began. At one point, we called in more staff to help make the process run even smoother.”

Only military veterans age 70-plus enrolled in the VA system were allowed to receive the vaccination, Maley said. However, veterans who have not yet enrolled in the system, but have the proper documentation, may still enroll to receive the vaccine at a later date.

United States Marine Veteran Douglas Madsen did not hesitate to receive the vaccine.

“I did this (receive vaccine) for my family and everyone around me,” Madsen said. “It’s the right thing to do.”

Madsen’s sentiments and enthusiasm were evident throughout the halls of the local VA Hospital, with smiling veterans greeting each other and VA staffers throughout the day.

As with all vaccines, a 15-minute observation period is required, so the only area with people congregating was the two socially-distant, observation seating areas at the two vaccination sites.

“Once they (veterans) receive their vaccine, they are assigned a numbered seat in the designated observation areas,” Maley said. “After the 15 minutes is over, they are done and ready to go home.”

According to Maley, the entire process, from check-in to observation, took approximately 20-30 minutes.

Maley said the scheduled and walk-in patients arrived at the front gate to check in, were directed to a screening area and then were parked in a staging area before being escorted into the VA Hospital facility.

“It was cold, so we didn’t want lines forming outside,” Maley said. “We brought people into the facility in groups of 10 or so.”

In addition, Maley said two routes were created to elongate the line of vehicles to prevent a jamming at the entrance.

“We are blessed to have large acreage here on campus, so we were able to utilize that space,” Maley said. “We did have points in the day where we redirected that traffic to prevent a bottleneck.”

In addition, throughout the day Maley was in constant contact with Kerrville VA Pharmacy Supervisor Dr. Joshua Rodgers in order to ensure all veterans received vaccines and none of the doses were wasted.

“These vaccines arrive frozen and must be stored in an ultra-cold storage area,” Maley said. “We are working closely with Dr. Rodgers to make sure we have enough of the vaccines thawed and ready, but also to make sure we do not have more than we need, because once they are prepared for distribution, we must use them. We will not let any of these vaccines go to waste.”

Plans will be under way to provide for an additional vaccination clinic for the required second dose of the vaccine to be administered to those participating in Saturday’s event. A second dose of the Pfizer vaccine must be received by the patient 21 days after the first dose is given.

“We will provide more information on future clinics when it is available,” Maley said.

In the meantime, veterans are encouraged to monitor the VA website page dedicated to the COVID-19 vaccine by visiting www.va.gov/health-care/covid-19-vaccine or call the VA Call Center at (877) 537-7348.

Maley said appointments are still being taken for veterans age 75 and older at the local VA Medical Center, but proof of enrollment in the VA system is required.

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