VA Begins Vaccinating Veterans - VA Salt Lake City Health Care System
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VA Begins Vaccinating Veterans

Two-time Iraq War Army Veteran Dana Hare became the first patient at Salt Lake City VA to receive the COVID-19 vaccine Monday. Photo Credit Tod Peterson

Two-time Iraq War Army Veteran Dana Hare became the first patient at Salt Lake City VA to receive the COVID-19 vaccine Monday. Photo Credit Tod Peterson

By T.S. Jarmusz
Wednesday, December 30, 2020

It was quick, routine, and over in a pinch.

But for two-time Iraq War Army Veteran Dana Hare, the procedure offered a dose of hope.

Literally.

On Monday, Hare became the first inpatient at Salt Lake City VA to get the COVID-19 vaccine – just a week after the medical center received its first batch.

Hare, 39, suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and has been receiving treatment for substance abuse at VA for the last 9 weeks. COVID-19 has challenged his recovery.  

“It’s been difficult. It’s been very isolating,” Hare said. “To intentionally isolate is one of the worst things you can do. We need interaction with our families — that’s one of the things that keeps us healthy.”

A Dose of Hope  

Assistant nurse manager Sally Rich talks with Coast Guard Veteran Christian Smith about the side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine. Smith was the second inpatient Veteran at Salt Lake City VA to get the vaccine. Photo Credit: Tod Peterson
Assistant nurse manager Sally Rich talks with Coast Guard Veteran Christian Smith about the side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine. Smith was the second inpatient Veteran at Salt Lake City VA to get the vaccine. Photo Credit: Tod Peterson

For Hare, the vaccine means a return to normalcy. It means handshakes and hugs and human bonds again.

“I want to start meeting with people I know and love, I want to get these masks off and start being normal again,” Hare said. “One of the things that helps us heal is that face-to-face connection with our brothers and sisters in arms, there’s nothing that can replace it.”

The vaccine will help Veterans with that, said Ashley Phillips, chief nurse of Primary Care and facility Covid vaccine coordinator.

“We do not want them to be socially isolated at all, and that’s what the vaccine gives us,” Phillips said. 

Coast Guard Veteran Christian Smith received the second vaccination.  Like Hare, COVID-19 has strained his progress toward sobriety.  

“It really affected my recovery, and I immediately started struggling,” Smith said. 

Smith, who cares for his father and volunteers his time to help others, said he felt other Veterans deserved the vaccine.

“I feel a little guilty,” Smith said. “I’m 41. I think there are people older who need it.”

But unlike other Veterans, Smith and Hare need to stay at VA for treatment. That makes them high-risk patients and a priority for vaccination.

Full Speed Ahead

The medical center received another 1,000 vaccines Tuesday: good news for Phillips and her staff. To push the vaccine out, her team has run the clinic as much as 16-hours a day.

VA will continue vaccinating health care workers and then move on to other higher-risk Veterans. But having already vaccinated 750 employees as of Monday, the medical center is well ahead of schedule.

“It’s better than Christmas,” Phillips said. “I want to be able to give our Veterans that vaccine as soon as possible so they can be reengaged in society.”

With roughly 13,000 high-risk Veterans in an hour’s drive of the medical center, Phillips said it will be a while before all the work is done.

Video Credit: Tyler Moore

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