Add To Favorites
VA gives first COVID-19 vaccines to elderly Cape Cod veterans
Cape Cod Times - 1/14/2021
Jan. 14—HYANNIS — A World War II combat engineer during the Battle of the Bulge,Curtis Shaw, of West Yarmouth, knows that at age 97 he faces a potentially deadly enemy in the form of COVID-19.
Shaw got some help in fighting the viral foe Wednesday during a COVID-19 vaccination drive-up clinic at the Hyannis Veterans Administration Clinic. The vaccines were given to U.S. military veterans aged 85 and older.
"Oh, it's wonderful," said Shaw as he waited in his car for the shot. "The VA has done a great job."
By noon the clinic had delivered the first dose of the two-shot Moderna vaccine to 107 elderly veterans and is scheduled to vaccinate another 100 at a second clinic
The Hyannis site was the first of three VA community health vaccination clinics being put on for older veterans, said Larry Connell, director of the Providence VA Healthcare System. The shots are given by appointment.
The large number of senior citizens in Barnstable County — which has one of the oldest populations in New England — put it at the head of the list, Connell said. He said other clinics will be put on in New Bedford and Middletown, Rhode Island.
The elderly "are the most at high risk," said Dr. Satish Sharma, chief of staff at the Providence VA Healthcare System.
The average age of a person hospitalized in Massachusetts for coronavirus is 73, while the average age at death has hovered in the low 80s.
"We've kind of got a captive audience," Connell said. He said VA staff reached out to veterans in their system to sign them up for the vaccination clinic, which also was available to veterans under age 85 with health issues.
"We have a very high volume of elderly veterans" on Cape Cod, said Dr. Monty VanBeber of the Hyannis VA Clinic.
Two of the veterans who got their first shot Wednesday were over 100 years old.
The vaccinations will "give them some immunity for the future so they can get out of the house," VanBeber said. They will be able to say, "'I can still be out in public.'"
"Our goal in the future is to ramp this up" and hold vaccination clinics for veterans who are age 65 and older, he said.
Sharma said the VA has a home-based primary care program whose nurses are gearing up to deliver the Moderna vaccine to homebound veterans in the Providence area.
Shaw, a retired computer programmer who built bridges during World War II, said his 95-year-old wife wanted to come with him to the VA vaccination clinic.
According to Massachusetts protocols, she will have to wait a bit.
People age 75 and older are not scheduled to be vaccinated until the beginning of phase two of the vaccination schedule, which is supposed to start sometime in February.
Vaccinations have been rolling out in Massachusetts for people in the first three groups of phase one: healthcare employees who work with and around COVID-19 patients, residents and staff of long-term care facilities, and first responders for whom vaccination clinics got up and running this week.
Next week vaccinations start for individuals in congregate care settings, including people in jails, shelters and group homes.
During a Wednesday press conference, in response to a question about why a convicted murderer will get the vaccine "before your elderly dad or my elderly parents," Gov. Charlie Baker said a decision was made early on to focus on vulnerable populations.
The data shows that "congregate care centers are at-risk communities no matter how you define them. I remind people that there are 4,500 public employees who work in the state's correctional system who are every bit as much at risk as the people who are inmates there," Baker said.
Other states have made the vaccine available to older people already, and on Tuesday the Trump administration issued new protocols to extend coronavirus vaccine eligibility to everyone age 65 and older.
In Massachusetts, people 65 and older remain in the second to last of four groups to be vaccinated in phase two, a period expected to extend from February to April.
Barnstable County Sheriff James M. Cummings said inmates on Cape Cod will start receiving the Moderna vaccine next week.
"Inmates will receive the vaccine on a volunteer basis," he said in an email.
"We currently have 176 inmates.
Vaira Harik, deputy director of the Barnstable County Department of Human Services, said Duffy Health Center in Hyannis is planning vaccination clinics for shelters including St. Joseph's House shelter in Hyannis; CHAMP Homes; Homeless Not Helpless; and Belonging to Each Other.
Harik said county officials are aware of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's recommendation to prioritize vaccinations of people age 65 and up.
"We await further information from the (state Department of Public Health's) vaccine planning committee on any changes to the state's vaccination phases and groups that may be forthcoming," Harik said in an email.
"Progress through the vaccination groups will be dependent upon availability of (the) vaccine to the state," Harik said.
Cynthia McCormick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org Follow her on Twitter: @Cmccormickcct
(c)2021 Cape Cod Times, Hyannis, Mass.
Visit Cape Cod Times, Hyannis, Mass. at www.capecodtimes.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.