HELENA — The Montana VA Health Care System (MTVAHCS) has begun COVID-19 vaccination clinics for veterans in the state.
MTVAHCS hosted its first vaccination clinics in Helena and Missoula on Wednesday for veterans over the age of 75, or veterans with a health condition that made them more susceptible to serious complications from COVID-19.
Montana VA executive director Judy Hayman says this is a significant milestone in the efforts of ending the pandemic.
“We’re very excited and I’d say the energy is even more exciting than when we vaccinated the staff,” said Hayman.”All the veterans I’ve spoken to are thankful to be here and are supporting each other. One veteran me he didn’t know if he needed the vaccine but he wanted to be sure he protected others.”
A total of 300 first doses of the vaccine were distributed in Helena and 200 doses were distributed in Missoula.
MTVAHCS says they’ve had thousands of veterans reach out in the past months about when they might get their vaccine. One of the benefits of being the primary care provider to those you’re vaccinating is you know each patient’s age and any health conditions that might qualify them for this round of testing.
To help vaccinations run smoothly, MTVAHCS has been running the clinics by appointment only and directly contacting eligible veterans.
U.S. Army veteran Buzz Beto said he was excited to begin his vaccination process, but joked it wasn’t as fast as he’d like, “I tried to get them to give me both of the shots, one in each arm, but they wouldn’t do it. They said I had to wait."
For many of the veterans getting vaccinated on Wednesday, the small needle means the return to some normalcy is sooner than later.
“I’m looking forward to being able to go places without this mask,” said Beto. “We don’t much go anyplace, we kind of hang close and when we do go somewhere we do wear the mask. I’ve got no problem wearing the mask, just looking forward to it being gone.”
Marine Corps veteran Duane Bakken echoed the sentiment and said he’s looking forward to being able to take his wife out for dates at restaurants again.
“I’m getting vaccinated so you can go somewhere other than sit at home all the time. Go to a restaurant, my wife and I used to that fairly regular and now we ain't been there in over a year,” said Bakken.
Another thing Bakken and Beto had in common -- along with every other veteran getting vaccinated MTN News spoke with -- is that they were getting vaccinated to protect others as well.
Bakken also noted that it seemed practical to boot. “I would certainly recommend people getting vaccinated,” said Bakken. “If people want to have some fun and finally get rid of these masks they better get a shot.”
Once the MTVAHCS enrolled veterans that are over 75 have been vaccinated that want one, they’ll then move to age 65 and older and so on as those groups wrap up their vaccinations. The Montana VA vaccine distribution is separate from the State of Montana’s vaccine distribution plan and will likely reach different benchmarks at different times.
Even though Wednesday was a historic event for MTVAHCS, staff say they’re not out of the woods yet.
Until enough people are vaccinated MTVAHCS strongly encourages people to think of those who are most at risk that live in their community and wear a mask, practice good hygiene and follow social distancing in public.
Veterans with questions about receiving the vaccine can send their healthcare team a secure message through MyHealtheVet or by calling 844-819-0833 to set up a time to discuss the COVID-19 vaccine.