AUGUSTA, Maine — The Veterans Affairs Maine Healthcare System is hosting a virtual town hall from 3-4 p.m. on Tuesday, April 6, to discuss the state of its vaccine rollout for veterans in Maine. This is one of a number of virtual town halls related to the pandemic that have been happening on a monthly basis via VA Maine since September.
At this meeting, VA Maine officials will be discussing who is eligible to get vaccinated through the VA; where veterans can get vaccinated; and how many veterans have been vaccinated so far. They will also be sharing information from health officials and answering questions for veterans who are hesitant to receive the vaccine.
This meeting comes after President Joe Biden signed the SAVE LIVES Act into law at the end of March, creating some new rules when it comes to vaccine eligibility within the VA. Now, all enrolled and unenrolled veterans, veterans’ spouses, and caregivers can get vaccinated through the VA to try to prevent COVID-19 from spreading. The term "caregivers" includes anyone who provides care to veterans with meals, trips to appointments, grocery shopping, etc.
VA Maine has been vaccinating people since late December. VA Maine’s chief of pharmacy, Pam Sweeney, says they’ve administered about 13,000 first doses and 7,000 final doses so far. Originally, VA Maine was only receiving about 300 vaccine doses per week – but now, they’re receiving between 2,000 and 3,000 doses per week.
“I think we’re finally at a point where we’re seeing really great allocations, so we’re not concerned at this point about having the vaccine supply," Sweeney said optimistically. "Three, four short weeks ago, we were absolutely concerned about that, so that’s no longer a barrier for us.”
Another goal for VA Maine is finding ways to bring vaccines closer to veterans with pop-up clinics, so they don’t have to travel as far. Associate director for facility operations Kim Ware says some veterans are still “on the fence” about getting vaccinated, but she is encouraging anyone who hasn’t been vaccinated to call VA Maine to do so. Veterans can choose where they get vaccinated and what vaccine they receive. VA Maine will be sharing upcoming dates and locations with openings at the town hall.
Ware says those who have been vaccinated are happy they did it.
“We’ve been able to talk with veterans, and the veterans are so thrilled that they’ve had the opportunity to be vaccinated," she said. "I can say most of them say, ‘I want to be vaccinated because I want to get back to some sense of normal. I want to visit my grandchildren. I want to be able to travel. I want to be able to get together with people in groups and have family gatherings.’”
Ware says within the next month or two, veterans and caregivers/spouses who really want to get vaccinated will have the opportunity to do so. About 53,000 veterans are enrolled in care at the VA, and there are about 95,000 total veterans in our state.
You can watch Tuesday’s town hall from 3-4 p.m. here. If you are a veteran who wants to schedule a vaccination through VA Maine, you can call 207-623-8411, extension 4949 or 7490 to do so.