By A.J. Etherington
The Courier 

Area Vets Get COVID Vaccine


March 24, 2021

The US Department of Veteran Affairs vaccinated 94 area veterans on March 11 adding to the hundreds of county residents who have received the vaccine through various programs. The effort is being funded and led by the VA to assist with the vaccination effort across the country. As of the March 11 clinic in Glasgow, more than 6,800 doses of the three types of vaccines to vets across the Big Sky accounting for over 14 percent of the Montana VA’s 47,000 enrolled veterans.

The clinic in Glasgow was also the first time the Montana Veterans Health Service was able to administer the one-shot Janssen meaning every Veteran who received the vaccine that day will not have to return for a second shot in almost a month like the original two COVID-19 vaccines.

Montana has been a pilot program for vaccinating rural veterans in the country. To get the nearly 100 doses into the middle of nowhere the VA crew chartered a flight, flew in that morning, conducted the clinic and flew out.

“We are tremendously excited to be able to bring the new single-dose vaccines to Montana Veterans. In the fight against COVID-19, the Janssen vaccine is critical to saving lives, and we are grateful to be able to get these doses to rural Veterans as soon as possible,” said MTVAHCS Executive Director Dr. Judy Hayman. “We serve 47,000 Montana Veterans in the fourth largest state in the country. Our teams are excited to fly these 100 vaccines to Glasgow area Veterans and help Veterans and their communities become safer with this single-dose vaccine.”

According to Dr. Greg Normandin, the Assistant Chief of Staff of the Montana VA Healthcare System, said the Janssen vaccine was a benefit not only for its single dose platform, but because it comes with fewer side effects due to its established platform. Normandin explained that the most recent vaccine follows a similar composition to the annual flu vaccine making it a known entity for side effects and adverse reactions.

On March 11, the veterans ranged from age 34 on the young end to over 98 on the high side. That 98-year-old vet survived being shot down over Germany in World War II and self-rescued back to friendly lines. Today he has likely survived the COVID-19 pandemic after receiving the vaccine nearly two weeks ago.

In larger communities, Dr. Normandin explained that the model for administering the vaccine is to “risk stratify” or, more simply put, to vaccinated those at higher risk first. “But when you come to these smaller events there’s not enough veterans available to risk stratify everybody.” As a result, the Glasgow clinic was able to administer the vaccine to every veteran they were able to contact who wanted the vaccine.

There are over 500 vets in the Glasgow VA Clinic system. Many had received the vaccine through their respective counties and other programs such as those at nursing homes or care centers. Some refused to receive the vaccine and others were unavailable for the clinic. As of March 22, veterans interested in receiving the vaccine can now make appointments with their care providers to receive the vaccine at any future clinic by calling 877-468-8387 and selecting Option 2, and then Option 2 again.

According to MTVHCS, the clinics will continue across the state until every veteran that wants the vaccine has received it.

Vaccine distribution through the VA has been a successful program for getting the various vaccines across the country. Leading the charge to fund that effort was Chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, Jon Tester, who helped secure $17 billion for veterans in the COVID-19 relief package passed in early March.

“This bill will boost vaccine distribution and outreach efforts to ensure we get more shots into veterans’ arms, regardless of where they live,” said Tester. “With folks seeking care and services from VA more than ever, these additional tools will expand health care options, employment assistance, and supportive services to meet the urgent needs of veterans and families. I’ll keep pushing this proposal on behalf of our nation’s veterans—and all Americans—who need this targeted relief to get on the other side of this crisis.”

A separate bipartisan measure from Tester and the Republican Senator from Arkansas, John Boozman, that passed the Senate unanimously expanded vaccine access not only to veterans but to their families as well through the VA.

According to a release put out by Tester’s office, the Strengthening and Amplifying Vaccination Efforts to Locally Immunize all Veterans and Every Spouse (SAVE LIVES) Act would allow VA to provide no-cost COVID vaccination services to all veterans, veteran spouses, caregivers, and Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Department of Veterans Affairs (CHAMPVA) recipients to the extent that such vaccines are available. It also urges the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to adjust VA’s vaccine allocation based on this increased eligibility pool, as much as the supply chain allows.”

“Vaccines are our best shot at ending this pandemic,” said Tester. “Unanimous passage of the SAVE LIVES Act brings us one step closer to our goal of providing free vaccination services to every veteran, spouse, child, and caregiver at VA. I’m grateful that all 99 of my Senate colleagues agree on the need to protect more veterans and their families, and I encourage the House to take up this bipartisan bill that’ll do just that.”


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