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California veterans weigh in on the coronavirus vaccine

By RICHARD FREEDMAN | Times-Herald, Vallejo, Calif. | Published: February 19, 2021

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VALLEJO, Calif. (Tribune News Service) — Delphine Metcalf-Foster survived Operation Desert Storm. What's a couple of COVID-19 vaccinations?

Apparently, no big deal for the longtime Vallejoan, a former Disabled American Veterans National Commander.

Metcalf-Foster, fresh out of her twice-weekly dip in the pool Thursday, said she's recovered swimmingly from the first and the Feb. 8 second dose delivered at the Veterans Outpatient Clinic in Martinez.

"Other than a sore arm, I had no after-effects," she said by phone.

While convincing non-military to take the vaccine can be challenging — "Some are still skeptical" — Metcalf-Foster said her fellow "seasoned" veterans she's come in contact with "can't wait" to be inoculated.

Active military, however, seem to be a bit more reticent.

Joint Staff vice director of operations Gen. Jeff Taliaferro told the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday that "very early data" shows about a third of U.S. troops who are able to get a coronavirus vaccine decline to do so.

"We believe, of course, the vaccine is the right thing to do, it's clearly safe for service members, and we need to continue to educate our force and help them understand the benefits and ensure there's leadership involvement in the discussion of the benefits of the vaccine," Taliaferro said.

There have been 152,905 coronavirus cases within the armed forces, according to the Pentagon, as well as 22 deaths. On Monday, three new coronavirus cases were reported aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt, the Navy ship that had at least 1,156 sailors test positive for coronavirus last spring, one of whom died.

According to Pentagon officials, 359,000 military members have received the first coronavirus vaccine dose, and 147,000 have received both.

Vallejo's foremost military advocate, Ret. Col. Nestor Aliga, said that while he is "by no means an expert, I think our troops are declining (the vaccination) because they feel the vaccine was too fast-tracked and side-effects and future-effects have not been fully ascertained."

Aliga recalled when, as an Army Nuclear/Biological/Chemical officer, he visited the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases "and they estimated that most new vaccines take at least 18 months to create and adequately ascertain its side-effects and future-effects."

Aliga speculated that active one-third of the active military may be rejecting vaccinations because "it is not mandatory. The Pentagon can require troops to receive standard immunizations, but it cannot make COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory, at least for now."

Vallejo's Luther Hendricks, a 95-year-old World War II veteran, said it's "scuttlebutt" that may cause the reluctance of veterans.

"The last president didn't do anything to encourage people to get 'em," Hendricks said.

A Marine Corps member from 1943-'46 who served in Guam, Okinawa, and Iwo Jima, Hendricks got his first dose at La Clinica downtown Feb. 11 and eagerly awaits dose No. 2 on March 11.

"A little soreness, a little itching. Everything went just fine," Hendricks said by phone.

Hendricks said he was willing to wait until the VA had an ample supply but believed it was the sooner the better "because of my age and my condition. I'm disabled."

Hendricks said there's no reason for veterans to fear the vaccinations.

"If you can stand the service you should be able to stand a little shot," he said. "I recommend you go ahead and get it. It's for your benefit. Some might have ill-effects, but it's still worth it."

With veterans 65 and older now eligible, Aliga has a Feb. 26 reservation for the first dose.

"I think it is very important for people to get vaccinated, especially my fellow veterans, because COVID-19 vaccines have been proven to be safe, effective, and it is a major weapon system to win this pandemic battle," Aliga said. "Also, getting vaccinated is an easy step we all can take to help keep each other, our families and communities, and those most vulnerable and marginalized safer."

Metcalf-Foster said it's up to each veteran, but she recommends the vaccinations and praised the VA Clinic on Mare Island for getting information to veterans regarding COVID-19 and offering vaccinations at its 201 Walnut Ave. site.

"They've stepped up to the plate," Metcalf-Foster said.

Vaccinations at the VA Clinic are available by appointment only. Veterans who receive their care at VA and fall in one of the criteria are being contacted and offered an appointment to receive a vaccine. Any veterans not enrolled in VA health care, call or visit the clinic's website regarding eligibility. Once enrolled, vets can request an appointment for a COVID-19 vaccine.

Vaccinations for veterans are now offered at the Mare Island Clinic, the Martinez Outpatient Clinic, and other Veterans Affairs Community Based Outpatient Clinics, including Fairfield/Travis.

For more, visit northerncalifornia.va.gov/services/covid-19-vaccines.asp.

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