As our nation approaches the one-year anniversary of Covid-19 entering this country, America is nearing the first step to overcoming this tragic pandemic. The outgoing administration’s Operation Warp Speed has successfully brought new vaccines in record timing, which are hopefully the keys to unlocking our economy, saving countless lives, and putting Covid-19 behind us for good. But creating the vaccines was just the first step. Distribution and administering them to the public has been an entirely new challenge, and it remains to be seen whether the Biden-Harris administration will be up to that challenge.. For our nation’s Veterans, that challenge will be met by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs.
Getting Covid-19 Vaccinations for Veterans
According to the VA website, the first phase of delivering the vaccines will be to those “Veterans living in our long-term care facilities and… VA health care personnel. Vaccinating our VA health care personnel helps us continue providing care for Veterans.” The initial rollout of available vaccinations to our elderly Veterans is concurrent with the federal recommendations of inoculating those at “Risk of becoming infected with the virus, risk of severe illness and death from COVID-19…(and) risk of harm to society if essential workers, including health care personnel, are unable to work.”
As important as our Veterans gaining access to the vaccine, is the vaccination of the countless caregivers who help care for them around the country. “The move comes after a coalition of veterans groups lobbied for the caregivers to be pushed to the top of the vaccine list, arguing that they deserved to be included in the first wave of medical professionals being protected against the deadly illness,” according to Defense News.
Dr. Richard Stone, executive in charge of the Veterans Health Administration, said that the vaccination program itself would be coordinated on a local level. “We need to leave it up to people at the besides, to make sure they are making the best decisions for veterans,” he said. “When someone brings a veteran in to give them the vaccine, they can easily identify what the other needs are.”
This is an important accomplishment for the VA, as it will ensure that tens of thousands of caregivers are provided the same opportunity as frontline workers to be vaccinated against the virus along with the thousands of Veterans that they care for.
Covid-19 Distribution to VA Facilities
Ultimately, distributing the Covid-19 vaccines to VA facilities will remain what some are calling a “Herculean” effort, according to The Military Times. There are several factors at play for the VA, which reflect the greater nationwide struggle to efficiently implement the vaccine rollouts.
One of the two primary vaccines currently available to the public is that designed by the pharmaceutical company Pfizer. But the extreme cold temperatures at which they must be kept highlights a logistical challenge in getting them to the public. As of December, “…37 sites have already begun preparations to administer the first pending vaccine made by the pharmaceutical company Pfizer, which requires extremely cold refrigeration at temperatures of -70 degrees Celsius to remain viable. By comparison, water freezes at 0 degrees Celsius.” Veterans Health Administration’s executive in charge, Dr. Richard Stone, noted in a December Senate Hearing that “We will need more resources… I do believe that there’s a lot we can’t see about vaccine distribution. And I think we’re still probably three to four weeks ahead of the of what we’re going to see in this escalation of (coronavirus) cases across the nation.”
The case of the VA represents the challenges going ahead with vaccinating the public at large in this next phase of the Covid-19 pandemic. Limited availability in the current inventories, coupled with the regiment being a two-dose inoculation means that administering the required course is going to take time, and plenty of it. While the VA is at the front lines of advocating for Veterans, there will be challenges ahead, and it appears that it will take many months before the vaccines are available for all our nation’s millions of Veterans.