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Patients at the Department of Veterans Affairs’ spinal cord injury centers will reportedly be first to receive Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine from the federal agency. About 17,500 veterans live in the department’s community living centers and spinal cord injury centers. Residents and staff at these facilities will be first to receive the vaccine.
The VA already vaccinated its first patient on Dec. 14, a 96-year-old World War II veteran in Massachusetts.
Having received 73,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine, the VA will be distributing them to 37 facilities in areas with high veteran populations, such as Dallas, Cleveland, and Washington. Moreover, Black, Hispanic and Native American veterans will also be prioritized. According to VA data, minority veterans are disproportionately affected by the virus. About 1.4 million Black veterans and 600,000 Hispanic veterans are enrolled in the VA.
The agency plans to distribute vaccines to more than 10 million enrolled patients and 418,000 employees. The agency will then vaccinate employees who treat COVID-19 patients, which includes emergency department staff and healthcare workers in coronavirus ICUs.
After those phases of distribution, the VA will reportedly vaccinate veterans and staff living in other nursing facilities that don’t yet have access to vaccines. The department estimates about 20,000 veterans will be included in this group.
However, the VA is not responsible for providing vaccines to state-run veterans’ homes, many of which have experienced deadly outbreaks of the virus, according to the plan. If state-run veterans’ homes want help vaccinating residents, they’ll have to request assistance through the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The VA could then be called on to provide help under its Fourth Mission to serve as backup for the American medical system.
More than 19,000 veterans and their families live in state-run veterans’ homes, and it’s uncertain how many people in those facilities have died. The VA does not include the homes in its data of coronavirus cases and deaths.
In 2008, a study noted that the VA cared for approximately 15% of persons with spinal cord injury in the U.S. The VA reportedly has the largest single network of SCI care in the nation. It provided a full range of care to 22,800 veterans with spinal cord injury and disorders in 2004 and specialty care to 12,257 of these veterans.
The VA SCI centers in Southern California are located in Long Beach and San Diego.
Spinal cord injuries can be caused by a variety of circumstances, such as car accidents and truck accidents, and almost always present a variety of complications. A recent estimate showed that the annual incidence of spinal cord injury is approximately 54 cases per one million people in the U.S., or about 17,730 new cases each year.