RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — With COVID-19 vaccination eligibility now open to veterans, spouses and caregivers, the Central Virginia VA Health Care System (CVHCS) has administered more than 38,200 doses of the vaccine since December 2020.
The recently signed SAVE LIVES Act expanded the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) authority to provide COVID-19 vaccines to more people, regardless of their VA health care enrollment status. According to VA Secretary Denis McDonough, that meant the number of individuals eligible to receive the vaccine through the VA increased from 9.5 million to more than 33 million nationwide.
“We are currently scheduling a lot of veterans and are also serving those who are now eligible under the SAVE LIVES Act,” said Dr. Deborah Panebianco, CVHCS Community-Based Outpatient Clinics (CBOC) Chief. “We want to spread the word that we have more than enough vaccine on hand and urge all eligible veterans to get the vaccine at the first available opportunity.”
According to a Tuesday release, CVHCS’ supply of COVID-19 vaccines has increased, and with it, so have available appointments.
“We are prioritizing our enrolled veterans, however, all veterans are eligible,” Panebianco said. “If you ever put on a uniform, you can get the vaccine through CVHCS.”
Nurses at the Hunter Holmes McGuire VA Medical Center administering COVID-19 vaccines in Richmond said that, on average, the clinic vaccinates between 550 and 750 individuals each day.
Wesley Collins, who retired from the Navy after 20 years, was one of the people receiving his second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on Tuesday.
“What made me want to get the vaccine is that I’ve got three school-aged kids at home, and I’m trying to make sure that they are safe,” Collins said. “I’m trying to do my part of not infecting them or infecting others.”
Collins, whose wife is on active duty at U.S. Army Garrison Fort Lee, said that finalizing his COVID-19 vaccination series relieved some of the stress he’s been feeling over the past year, and now, he’s looking forward to getting back into a routine.
“The past year, for me, it’s been really challenging, especially for the kids. We’re all stuck in the house, we all have anxiety, we all want to get out because we are outside people,” Collins said. “Now that I have the second vaccine, some of the anxiety is leaving. I feel safer.”
Collins said that he was grateful to have the opportunity to be vaccinated through the VA because it was convenient for him. Nurses Lauren Miles and Tanya Raines said that they have heard similar feedback from other Central Virginia veterans they have vaccinated.
“The veterans were excited,” Raines said. “They were excited that the VA was able to offer this. They were excited that we were able to get them through efficiently, effectively.”
Both nurses have been with the VA for five years and worked in COVID-19 units during the pandemic, helping veterans recover from the virus.
“We’ve taken care of the COVID-19 veterans, as well, and now, seeing them getting vaccinated, so it’s just wonderful to see,” Raines said.
“It’s been such a positive experience, for us and them, too. It gives us some hope,” Miles said. “We’re very fortunate to be able to serve those who’ve unselfishly served.”
According to a release, anyone who served in the U.S. military is eligible to be vaccinated through the VA. For COVID-19 vaccine eligibility, the department defines a spouse to include marriage, same-sex and common-law marriages This applies also to a widow or widower of a veteran. Family members or friends who provide care to a veteran through personal needs such as feeding, bathing or dressing are considered caregivers.
“I am very proud of the team effort the vaccine clinic staff have put in since the very first dose back in December, here in Richmond, as well as our CBOCs in Emporia, Charlottesville, and Fredericksburg,” Panebianco said. “The staff have done a great job and have been very focused and committed to serving our veterans.”
Veterans, their caregivers and spouses can register online to receive the COVID-19 vaccine or call 804-675-5737. Vaccinations are happening through CVHCS by appointment only at clinics in Richmond, Charlottesville, Emporia, Fredericksburg and Henrico.
Once at the vaccination site, individuals will be asked to check-in. After receiving the shot, there is an observation room where medical professionals monitor those who have been vaccinated for 15 minutes for adverse effects.