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Vaccine Distribution Begins At Lackland, Audie Murphy VA To Follow

Airman 1st Class Melody Bordeux / 59th Medical Wing Public Affairs
Airman 1st Class Kimber Bernau, 59th Medical Wing Family Emergency Clinic medical technician, administers the San Antonio Military Health System’s first Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine shot to Maj. Andrew Gausepohl, Dec. 14, 2020, at Wilford Hall Ambulatory Surgical Center, Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas.

The San Antonio Military Health System began administering the Pfizer BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to its highest-risk workers this week.

Arrival and distribution of the vaccine started Monday morning at Joint Base-San Antonio Lackland, following the Food and Drug Administration's emergency use authorization over the weekend.

The first in line to receive the vaccine was Air Force Maj. Andrew Gausepohl, medical director of the 59th Medical Wing's Family Emergency Center.

“It was clearly an honor to be the first in line,” said Gausepohl, who bared his arm at Wilford Hall before a crowd of about 50 people. “It wasn’t for me. It was for my patients. It was for the patients that I can now see so I don’t have to be concerned about spreading the disease.”

Gausepohl pointed out that coronavirus had hurt medical providers’ ability to care for patients — in part because the additional personal protective measures were so time-consuming.

“COVID has really been a detriment… We have to change our operations in order to better fit patients and put them in the right care model every single time,” he said.

Gausepohl explained that he had initially experienced some soreness at the vaccine injection site but said he felt fine Tuesday. He joined Maj. Gen. John DeGoes, 59th Medical Wing commander and director of the San Antonio Military Health System, and Brig. Gen. Shan K Bagby, commander of Brooke Army Medical Center, on a Zoom conference call with reporters.

The officials outlined their plans for vaccine distribution, which will soon include Brooke Army Medical Center. Part of the challenge is cold storage capacity and making sure the vaccine stays at minus 80 Celsius during transfer.

“At BAMC, we are in the process of doing lessons learned in a collaborative approach and walking through our process to validate the transfer from Wilford Hall to BAMC — the storage, the distribution and then the delivery of the vaccine shortly,” Bagby said.

“We continue to focus on education, on explaining why this vaccine is incredibly important for our health care workers and all recipients as we move down the prioritization schema so that we can move towards immunizing the population against the COVID-19 disease,” said DeGoes.

After the highest-risk health care workers receive the vaccine, first responders and military personnel with a national security imperative are next in line. SAMHS will then move on to its most vulnerable patients: primarily the elderly and those with significant medical problems.

The healthier and younger active duty population is further down the list. Those in Basic Military Training at Lackland could start receiving doses in March or April, DeGoes said.

San Antonio’s Audie Murphy VA Hospital Will Start Administering Vaccines Soon

San Antonio’s Audie Murphy VA Hospital will also begin administering the Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine to veterans and healthcare workers this week.

“After many months of tireless efforts, we are thrilled the vaccine is here and honored to be one of the first VA sites to administer it,” said Christopher Sandles, director and CEO of the South Texas Veterans Healthcare System. “We are following the VA COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Plan to ensure a safe, evidence-based and equity-focused vaccine rollout for VA frontline workers and veterans.”

The San Antonio VA was one of the first 37 sites chosen by the Department of Veterans Affairs to distribute the vaccine, according to a release. That decision was due in part to its ability to vaccinate large numbers of people and store the vaccine at extremely cold temperatures.

“VA employees have provided life-saving COVID-19 care to thousands upon thousands of people, and this plan demonstrates how the department continues to play a crucial role in the nation’s response to the pandemic,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie.

Veterans in VA’s long-term care facilities will be the first patient group to be vaccinated. As supplies increase, more veterans will receive vaccinations based on factors like age and existing health problems that increase their risk.

Those within the South Texas Veterans Health System who receive the vaccine will be monitored for side effects.

The VA will report all vaccine doses it administers directly to the CDC. The department will also provide general public updates on the number of people who receive the vaccination at its sites.

To get additional information, veterans can visit the VA Coronavirus Vaccine FAQs webpage.

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Carson Frame can be reached carson@tpr.org and on Twitter at @carson_frame