Reasons & Remarks – Vaccine Hurdles

The challenges of vaccinating

I have to admit, with a little embarrassment, that I never get a flu shot.

It seemed, at least in my head, that every time I did, I would feel lousy with flu-like symptoms. So, for the past 20 years, I never got the shot and, knock on wood, never got sick. However, when it came time to consider the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccination, I was all on board, as I’m sure were many of you.

The problem is, unlike the flu shot, getting a COVID-19 vaccination was much more challenging. Back in March 2020, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) issued a press release where it identified two populations at high risk for COVID-19 complications. The two populations identified in that release were people residing in nursing homes and those with spinal-cord injuries or disease (SCI/D).

When the vaccines became available, the VA was prompt in making those in nursing home-type facilities a top priority to receive the shots. However, those with SCI/D were, in many cases, left hanging and were subject to the whims of their local VA. 

I hope by the time you’re reading this that most of you have had the opportunity to get vaccinated. It would have been nice if you hadn’t encountered major hurdles in that endeavor, but I know for certain that many of you did.

I’m not pointing fingers at any particular facility or underestimating the complexity and magnitude of this project. But if there’s anything consistent about the delivery of the vaccine to the SCI/D population within the VA system, it has been that it’s inconsistent. 

I personally experienced this total inconsistency in the delivery of the vaccine. I’m located in Phoenix, where the local VA hospital doesn’t have an SCI/D center. In January, the local VA was giving no priority to those with SCI/D, which meant you waited your turn based more or less upon your age.

However, I could and did travel to the San Diego VA SCI/D center and immediately received the vaccine. The San Diego SCI/D center had been successful in prioritizing those with SCI/D.  So, I made my appointment for Jan. 25. I got up early, drove 360 miles from Phoenix to San Diego, got my vaccine around noon, turned around and drove back to Phoenix. That was a long day. 

Fortunately, between the time of my first shot and the second one, the Phoenix VA also prioritized this population and began giving the vaccine to outpatients at the SCI/D clinic.  Unfortunately for me, I received the Moderna vaccine in San Diego, and Phoenix is only giving the Pfizer-BioNTech one, so I still had to drive back to San Diego for the second shot. In hindsight, had I just taken a deep breath and waited, I could have saved a lot of driving; but, at the time, I had no real idea when I would receive the vaccine in Phoenix. 

In my discussions about the vaccine with friends from across the country, I have heard similar stories. Additionally, anyone who watches the news has been inundated with daily reports confirming that the delivery of the vaccine has generally been inconsistent at best to infuriating at worst.

I would like to reiterate that I’m not pointing fingers or even complaining. The vaccine’s delivery is a monumental task complicated by the vast number of entities involved with their overlapping authorities and, many times, very different opinions on who should be considered a priority.

I am incredibly happy to say that PVA’s Government Relations and Medical Services staff worked with the VA and on Feb. 19, the VA formally announced that SCI/D veterans now have priority access to the COVID-19 vaccine regardless of age.

The VA’s decision is based on data showing that people with SCI/D who contract COVID-19 have higher adverse outcomes. As a result, all veterans with SCI/D are now eligible for the vaccine through the VA, subject to limitations based on supply.

Thank goodness I love driving. If the shot had been available to me in Phoenix and no one would have known, I’d probably have driven to San Diego anyway.

Stay safe, and I hope you get your vaccine as soon as possible.  

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