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Florida VA health care systems are leading the way in vaccinating veterans

The Bay Pines VA Healthcare System in Bay Pines, Fla., on Feb. 17, 2021.

DIRK SHADD/TAMPA BAY TIMES

By ILEANA NAJARRO | Tampa Bay Times | Published: February 19, 2021

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (Tribune News Service) — Four of Florida’s veterans health care systems are leading the nation in administering the most first- and second-dose coronavirus vaccinations to military veterans.

The Bay Pines system in St. Petersburg and the Tampa system are vaccinating outpatients 65 and older, as well as enrolled and eligible veterans who are essential frontline workers over the age of 18, following guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, according to spokespeople for the systems.

Since mid-December, the state’s six veteran health care systems have been administering vaccines in alignment with the federal guidelines, said Mary Kay Rutan, spokeswoman for the Florida VA network. They started with health care workers, in-patient veterans and later outpatients who were 75 and older. As of Thursday morning, more than 115,600 Florida veterans have received an initial vaccine, and more than 56,500 have received a second dose, according to national data.

Florida medical centers receive about 10 percent of the Department of Veterans Affairs’ vaccine allotment each week due to the large number of veteran patients who live here, Rutan said. The centers prepared in advance, including getting freezers to store the Pfizer vaccine.

As of Thursday morning, veteran health care systems in St. Petersburg, Tampa, Orlando and Gainesville were among the top five in the country at giving veterans an initial vaccine dose.

The Bay Pines system had vaccinated more than 19,800 veterans and the Tampa system more than 21,400, according to national data.

The same four Florida systems were among the top five nationally at giving veterans a second dose, with Bay Pines giving more than 8,700 and Tampa giving more than 10,100.

Veterans’ spouses are not eligible for a vaccination unless they are designated as a primary or secondary caregiver in the Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers, Rutan said.

Recent inclement weather across the country has delayed shipments of the Moderna vaccine to Florida veteran medical centers, although it hasn’t impacted appointments already scheduled, Rutan said. Newly eligible veterans, including front-line workers such as firefighters, police officers, food and agriculture workers and grocery store workers, will be contacted by their VA care teams to schedule an appointment.

Veterans also may call their care team to request a vaccine when they are eligible, and a note will be placed on their medical record.

For information on upcoming walk-in vaccination clinics or vaccine rollouts, veterans can go online to baypines.va.gov/BAYPINES/services/covid-19-vaccines.asp, tampa.va.gov/services/covid-19-vaccines.asp or orlando.va.gov/services/covid-19-vaccines.asp.

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