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Bakersfield VA outpatient clinic vaccinating vets by the hundreds

The Bakersfield Californian - 2/19/2021

Feb. 19—Bakersfield resident John Workman didn't even flinch as the needle penetrated his shoulder and the vaccine entered his body Thursday morning.

Five minutes later as the U.S. Army Gulf War veteran relaxed in the post-vaccine observation room at the VA's outpatient clinic in Bakersfield, he said he felt a sense of relief that he is able to join millions of other Americans in the battle against a coronavirus that has killed nearly a half-million people in the United States over the past year.

"I have grandkids living with me, 9- and 10-year-old boys," he said. "I feel a lot of relief. This took away a lot of apprehension for me."

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs' Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System has been vaccinating eligible vets in Bakersfield for more than a month, and on Thursday, they invited The Californian to document the effort and help spread the word.

The vaccinations at the clinic on Westwind Drive are being offered to enrolled, health care-eligible veterans within groups that include those age 65 and older, health care professionals, essential workers and several categories of at-risk patients.

"It's very important to serve veterans where they are, not where we are," said Rob Merchant, executive director of ambulatory care services for the VA'sGreater Los Angeles Healthcare System.

The system includes five counties and more than 87,000 veterans, but the local effort is part of two big pushes to vaccinate vets in Bakersfield and Santa Maria.

About 78 were expected to be vaccinated Thursday, but the clinic is going bigger with a plan to vaccinate more than 300 on Tuesday and another 300 on March 16, Merchant said.

"Not every veteran is eligible," he said.

Bakersfield resident Victor Mungary, 81, received his second injection of the Pfizer vaccine on Thursday. The retired Cal State Bakersfield employee served 10 years in the U.S. Air Force and a dozen more in the Navy Reserve.

He seemed to be enjoying himself Thursday. When Merchant, also a Navy veteran, asked Mungary what he did in the Navy, Mungary quipped, "Whatever I could get away with."

Raysa Daza, a registered nurse, was working the observation room Thursday, where she helped make sure no patient experienced a negative reaction to the vaccine.

"If there is an emergency, we are trained to respond," she said.

She was also charged with keeping track of every dose.

"It's very important for every vaccine dose to be administered," she said.

That's because, once the vial is opened, the approximately six doses it carries has just six hours before it must be administered.

It's about keeping the county's veterans safe, she said. And working to eventually return life to some sort of normal.

"Let's get everyone vaccinated," Daza said, "to keep Kern County open."

Reporter Steven Mayer can be reached at 661-395-7353. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter: @semayerTBC.


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