CINCINNATI — The Greatest Generation, which served during World War II, are now on the frontlines of a war against a virus that disproportionately affects those who are older. Every week, the staff at Cincinnati VA Medical Center (CVAMC) are doing what they can to get vaccines into the arms of those who qualify.
“We have received 4,100 first doses to date,” said Dr. Kristen Schmitt, Chief of Pharmacy Service at CVAMC.
She said they’ve managed to administer 4,200 shots by pulling extra doses from the Moderna vaccine they receive. As of Jan. 22, she said they’ve been able to vaccinate 1,700 healthcare workers within the CVAMC and 2,500 veterans who meet the CDC guidelines for receiving the vaccine.
“We’ve been reaching out to veterans who are on dialysis, veterans who are homeless, who are on the transplant list or have received a solid organ transplant,” Schmitt said. There’s also a focus on those going through chemotherapy and those 75 and older.
“Sometimes we’re calling them on fairly short notice to offer them vaccine,” she said. “Because as soon as we get it, we’re trying to get a clinic booked and get that vaccine into arms and out the door.”
A spokesperson for the CVAMC said they serve approximately 43,000 veterans in the Tri-State who qualify for benefits and are registered within their database. A team from My Healthy Vet is taking that database and copying into a calling program designed to notify veterans when it’s time to get scheduled to receive the vaccine.
“We’ve sent out 3,000 calls so far,” said James Wilson, coordinator for My Healthy Vet.
He says they’re pushing 200 to 300 calls out a day and veterans who currently receive phone call reminders for appointments will recognize the call.
“The caller ID comes across as the VA comes up as 'U.S. Government' and it’s the number to our hospital,” he said.
Despite being able to vaccinate 4,200 since Dec. 22, Schmitt said they can do much more if the supply of vaccine from the VA were to be increased.
“We keep testing the flow in our clinic, and we can accommodate more vaccine if we can get it,” she said. “We can get about 80 done per hour, and if that’s a 10-hour day, that’s 800 vaccines.”
The staff finds out later this week how many vaccines they’re getting. Last week, they received 700 doses, and the number varies week to week. Schmitt said the number of doses is determined by the size of veteran population served.
With the desire to have more vaccine to be able to administer, there’s an even bigger desire to ensure not a single dose gets wasted.
“Several hours before the end of our clinic, we start checking our numbers,” Schmitt said.
She said they’re checking the count on the number of vaccines thawed out and ready to use to the number of people remaining on the scheduled list of patients. Whether it’s one shot or 10, the calls go out to find additional veterans who either haven’t had their first shot, veterans or healthcare workers who need their second dose, so that the vaccine isn’t tossed.
“We have used every dose. We have not tossed out vaccine at the end of the day,” she said.
She adds that veterans wanting to get vaccinated should await the automated call which gives you the option to select right then to be transferred to a scheduler or contact their primary care physician at the CVAMC.
Veterans should not show up to the VA Medical Center expecting to get a shot during the vaccination clinics, as those who are there are scheduled and the number of doses are accounted for during that particular week.
Sign up on the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs COVID-19 website for the latest on the vaccine rollout for veterans.