More than 23,000 veterans enrolled in the St. Louis Veterans Affairs Healthcare system have received the first dose of the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. More than 15,000 of them have received a second dose.
The St. Louis Veterans Affairs system expects to vaccinate up to 80% by the end of June.
That vaccination rate is on par with those of other VA systems across the country. The St. Louis VA system received its first doses of COVID-19 vaccine late December.
The system has vaccinated up to 800 people a day in recent weeks, in part because VA doctors have strong relationships with their patients, said Patty Hendrickson, associate director of patient care services.
“Once we knew we're getting vaccines, we really did a lot of communication from our staff to our veterans,” said Patty Hendrickson, VA associate director of patient care services. “We did a lot more touches with our veterans, because we just didn't want them to be out there on their own, you know, so I think we built stronger relationships with them.”
Veterans affairs officials initially made it a priority to vaccinate hospital workers and high-risk veterans living in congregate and community living facilities, because they were at high risk of catching the coronavirus.
The VA expanded its outreach efforts by renting the Grand Hall on Chouteau Avenue for a vaccination clinic. It also used its clinics in St. Charles County, north St. Louis County, St. Clair County, Jefferson Barracks and Franklin County to help vaccinate veterans.
President Joe Biden signed legislation last month that requires the VA to allow veterans who aren’t enrolled in the system to receive a vaccine. The bill also allows veteran spouses and caregivers to receive the shot.
Hendrickson estimates that could expand vaccine access to about 75,000 people in the St. Louis area.
VA systems across the country have set a blueprint for how health care systems should respond to national emergencies, said Suzanne Gordon, a senior policy analyst for the Veterans Healthcare Policy Institute in California.
“You're not dealing with 5,200 different hospitals who all operate in a different way, you're dealing with 171 medical centers and 1,200 sites of care that are all in the same system,” Gordon said. “They roll something out, they don't just roll it out in St. Louis and say, ‘Well, the veterans in St. Louis are going to have a great time but good luck in Boston or San Francisco.’ I mean, it's a national system of national protocols.”
She said doctors in the VA system regularly interact with patients and make vaccinations a priority.
“[The VA] immediately canceled elective surgeries when private-sector health care systems were still doing them because they didn't want to lose revenue. It shifted staff to hotspots, it shared information and supplies,” Gordon said. “When the vaccine rollout came, there was just a very seamless outreach to veteran patients, because the VA is used to reaching out to its patients both routinely and in emergencies.”
St. Louis-area veterans needing the vaccine can call 314-289-7039 to register. They can also email email@example.com.
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