Here’s How Veterans In North Florida And South Georgia Are Getting A COVID-19 Vaccine Through The VA

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The SAVE LIVES Act, which President Joseph Biden signed into law in March, gives Veteran Affairs medical facilities across the country the legal authority to provide COVID-19 vaccines to all veterans.

Prior to this act, only veterans enrolled in VA Health Care could get vaccinated. All veterans, regardless of their health care enrollment status, can now get vaccinated.

The North Florida/South Georgia Veterans Health System on Thursday held a vaccine clinic at the First Baptist Church of Williston. Veterans, their spouses, and caregivers were able to receive the Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccine.

“When when we look at the VA operation, there’s about 18 million veterans and 9 million are enrolled to get care across VA. Then there’s another 9 million Veterans who are not enrolled, so this has really opened up the opportunity for more Veterans to get vaccinated,” said system Director Thomas Wisnieski.

Veterans can “skip the drive” and get a vaccine closer to home, said Craig Pasanen, program support specialist for the Malcom Randall Veteran Affairs Medical Center.

“We have realized that the majority of our health catchment area is rural. So in an effort to ease the burden of trying to travel to a VA clinic, we decided to come to the community,” Pasanen said.

The North Florida/South Georgia system has been to four rural communities, stretching from Perry, Florida, to Thomasville, Georgia.

Jason Owenby, First Baptist Church Pastor, said veterans have sacrificed so much throughout their lives, and the vaccine effort is a way to give back to them.

“We got involved because the VA contacted us looking for a facility. So we felt like this was a way that we could love our neighbor and that we could in some way serve our community,” Owenby said, “and all we did was just simply allowed them to use our facility.”

John Richardson, retired Navy Veteran, said he was patiently waiting for the opportunity to get his single-dose shot. So when he found out about the clinic, he immediately made an appointment.

“I was ready for it. We expect the worst because we hear so many negative things about it. But when you get in here, it’s just like a little mosquito bite,” Richardson said.

Richardson served 28 years in the Navy to protect his country and he still wants to protect those he loves and everyone else around him.

“I got it for my brother since he has pre-existing conditions, and my wife of course. I want to protect everybody,” he said.

The North Florida/South Georgia Veteran Health System has delivered over 81,000 vaccines. The next vaccination site will be held in Chiefland on April 15.

Veterans may schedule an appointment by calling 352-548-6000 ext. 103755.

About Erica Shebovsky

Erica is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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