COVID-19 Vaccines Underway For Northeast Ohio Veterans

By Ethan J. Snyder

Recently some northeast Ohio veterans received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Although college-aged Ohioans aren’t able to receive the vaccine yet, some frontline and healthcare workers in the field are on the early list for the shot. 

The Veterans Affairs Northeast Ohio Healthcare System has prepared four sites for distribution of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to eligible veterans. 

“Vaccines will be given by appointment only. The distribution schedule and locations are based on vaccine availability and the current priority group,” said Jill K. Dietrich, executive director of the VA Northeast Ohio Healthcare System. 

The designated sites in Northeast Ohio are the VA Medical Centers in Cleveland, Akron, Mansfield and Youngstown. Retired army military police specialist Pete Price was one veteran to receive a dose.

“I was really looking forward to getting it. The whole system was very fluid — I was in and out of my appointment in 17 minutes and 15 of those minutes was the waiting period after I got the shot,” Price said. “They were just ‘boom-boom,’ in and out — it was sweet.”

So far, the VA has distributed more than one million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine across the country.

According to the VA, 582,000 first doses and 44,000 second doses of the Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine have been delivered to veterans, while more than 401,000 doses have been given to VA employees.

“They notified me in December where they had a pre-sign-up list,” Price said. “A few weeks ago, they gave me a phone number to call the Cleveland location. They tell you where the vaccine is available, and they set up your appointment. I could go to Cleveland, Akron or Mansfield and I chose Akron because Youngstown wasn’t scheduling at the time.”

Eligible veterans include people above the age of 65, people with underlying medical conditions, people residing in congregate living settings, such as nursing homes and essential workers. This is how retired Navy Capt. Greg Cooper received his vaccine.

“Although I am a veteran, I had arranged to get the vaccine through the Mahoning County Educational Service Center because I am a substitute teacher. That was enough for me to be eligible to get the vaccine as early as I did,” Cooper said.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, more than 209,000 VA patients were diagnosed with COVID-19. Roughly 9,200 have died, including 1,800 in January alone. This means that January was the deadliest month to date for VA patients, surpassing the record in December by nearly 1,700 people.

“It’s a tremendous logistical challenge to try to get the vaccine to all Americans, I think they’re trying to do it as quickly as they can but unfortunately, it’s kind of a case of ‘we’re trying to fly the airplane while we’re building it,’” Cooper said. “I’m sure that they want to get the vaccine to as many people as they can, but they have to prioritize it. There are people that are going to question what the priorities are, should it be old folks, teachers, healthcare workers, but the answer is everybody and the sooner we can get everyone vaccinated the better.”