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St. Cloud VA doling out 44 vaccinations an hour at its COVID-19 vaccine clinics
St. Cloud Times - 2/11/2021
Feb. 10—Veterans and VA employees in Minnesota have been vaccinated at a faster pace than the rest of the state.
The St. Cloud VA Health Care System and the Minneapolis VA Health Care System have vaccinated about 17% of employees and eligible veterans, said Robert McDivitt, director of the VA Midwest Health Care Network, which covers Minnesota, the Dakotas, Iowa and Nebraska.
Minnesota has vaccinated 10% of the state with at least one dose as of Tuesday, according to the Department of Health's vaccination dashboard.
McDivitt spoke Tuesday at a St. Cloud VA virtual town hall. He highlighted another milestone — the confirmation of Minnesota native, former Obama White House Chief of Staff and St. John's University graduate Denis McDonough as the new head of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
"This is actually a momentous day for Minnesota and for Minnesota veterans and for St. Cloud," McDivitt said. "We certainly look forward to working with Secretary McDonough and are confident that he will visit his home state frequently."
St. Cloud staffers used the town hall to update veterans on COVID-19 vaccinations and protocols.
As of Tuesday, the St. Cloud VA had provided at least one shot to 4,852 people; 78% of those went to veterans and the rest to employees. The facility is hosting vaccination clinics every day this week, including Saturday and next Monday, to get doses in arms.
Nationwide, the VA administered 1 million doses of COVD-19 vaccines as of Feb. 2. Those come directly through the federal government, separate from the vaccines overseen by the state and shared with other providers. Nearly 570,000 Minnesotans had received at least one dose as of Tuesday, and that jumped to nearly 584,000 on Wednesday.
Planning for the vaccine rollout started at the VA in mid-November, according to a presentation by Chief of Pharmacy J.D. Anderson.
"We've had a busy three months as we've begun our planning and executed our vaccine model," Anderson said. They learned from their curbside flu vaccines efforts in the fall.
The St. Cloud VA administered its first COVID-19 vaccinations in the days before Christmas. That first round went to veterans in the VA'sCommunity Living Center and to health care staff.
It was the first VA in the country to travel to and provide vaccines at its community-based outreach clinics, Anderson said. Those vaccines began New Year's Eve at clinics in Alexandria, Brainerd and Montevideo.
For Phase 1B, the St. Cloud VA reached out to veterans 85 and older, those with a history of dialysis or spinal cord injury and those in active chemotherapy, Anderson said. Staff also reached out to homeless veterans. And in the next round they reached out to veterans 75 to 84.
The next phase will include people 65 and older with health conditions.
The St. Cloud VA has reached a pace of 11 vaccinations per 15 minutes with six people administering the vaccines, Anderson said. "We are adjusting our vaccine efforts according to our weekly allocation of vaccine that we are receiving from the CDC."
Through the pandemic, the facility tracked 46 COVID-19 cases among their residents and 344 among employees, according to Tuesday's presentation. Among their outpatients, 668 tested positive on site and 539 tested positive at community sites.
Even after receiving the vaccine, people must continue to wear masks at the VA, said St. Cloud VA spokesman Barry Venable at the town hall.
"The pandemic is not going away next month or the month after that. It will be with us for a long time," he said, noting that vaccinations may continue into the fall.
"There are, as of yet, known risks and unknown risks that may show up," Venable said. "To quote our chief of staff Dr. (Scott) Bartley: There's three or four things you can do to help yourself. The first is to wash your hands and wash your hands often. Wear your mask. Maintain your social distance. And be careful with whom you engage."
Nora Hertel is the government watchdog reporter for the St. Cloud Times. Reach her at 320-255-8746 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @nghertel.
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