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VA health care is added option for Waterloo-area veterans to get COVID-19 vaccine

Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier - 2/10/2021

Feb. 10—WATERLOO — Local health care systems and pharmacies are offering COVID-19 vaccines to people 65 and older. But for veterans, another option exists that could help them get vaccinated.

The Veterans Affairs health care system is offering vaccines to Black Hawk County residents 65 and older who served in the military. Its Waterloo outpatient clinic and Iowa City medical center have a separate stream of vaccines than state and county officials, said VA spokesperson Bryan Clark. The VA is mailing letters to veterans who are eligible to get vaccinated, allowing them to call a phone number to schedule appointments.

Veterans who do not normally use VA health care services can still request to get vaccinated by the VA, Clark said. People can have health insurance through their company — such as John Deere — and still use VA services, he said. Veterans can call (877) 222-8387 to see if they are eligible.

"We have seen a huge response," Clark said. "Our vaccination clinic has been full every day in the main hospital as we're getting vaccines."

People who have risk factors for COVID-19 are among the first the VA will vaccinate, Clark said. That includes people undergoing hemodialysis, chemotherapy or experiencing homelessness, he said.

The VA is offering vaccines to people who are enrolled in its caregiver support program, Clark said, which is for legal representatives of veterans who care for their health and well-being.

Outpatient clinics like the one in Waterloo get small shipments of 10 vaccine doses at a time, Clark said. The Iowa City clinic gets more doses to give veterans during weekend appointments — including 900 doses that will be given this upcoming weekend, Clark said.

He said the VA hopes to take weekend vaccination events "on the road" to other cities when vaccine supply increases. Before that happens, the VA will coordinate transportation for veterans who want to travel to Iowa City for vaccines, Clark said.

"The VA is taking really good care of the patients that have shown up, and that includes me," Clark said, himself a veteran and vaccine clinic volunteer.

Clark did not provide information on how many Black Hawk County veterans already got vaccinated by the VA. More than 3,500 people — including non-veterans — in the county received both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine from the health department's supply, according to local data.

"It gives us an opportunity to relieve some of the burden and stress on the local and county health departments and communities across the state that are struggling," Clark said.

The Iowa VA gets allocated vaccines from a regional office in Minnesota, he said.

Clark said the best chance at getting back to "normal life" is for as many people as possible to get vaccinated.

"It's not just me protecting myself from getting the virus," Clark said. "It's very much about making sure that we're protecting our communities, we're protecting the other at-risk people ... people who have a chance at living a full and productive life if they can avoid getting a complication like COVID-19."


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