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Connecticut VA opens up vaccine eligibility to veterans of all ages

In Connecticut, any veteran, regardless of age, who is enrolled in the Veterans Affairs health care system, can now get the COVID-19 vaccine.

The VA, as a whole, had followed an age-based approach to vaccinating the veterans under its care.

Now, the VA Connecticut Healthcare System is removing the age requirement given the steady supply of the vaccine and strong interest among vets here in getting inoculated. The only requirement now is to be enrolled for care through the VA.

About 48,000 Connecticut vets are enrolled in the VA’s health care system. VA Connecticut Director Al Montoya said the goal is to get shots to 34,000 or 70% of those patients.

“Today we will hit 50% and be able to vaccinate just over 17,000 vets, which is nothing short of a miracle,” Montoya said Monday during a virtual news conference hosted by Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.

Blumenthal, who recently visited VA vaccination sites in Newington and West Haven, said VA Connecticut’s vaccine rollout “is a tremendous national success story." The VA began administering the vaccine in mid-December.

The Connecticut VA has targeted vets in a number of ways, including calling them to schedule appointments, sending text message alerts, and holding walk-in clinics at its community-based outpatient clinics around the state. Montoya said he personally has called vets to let them know of their eligibility and to schedule appointments for them.

This week, the VA will hold a vaccine clinic at a firehouse in Putnam, one of the most rural areas of the state, and is seeking to vaccinate vets who live within a 20-mile radius of the town. Montoya said data shows there are vets as young as 23 and as old as 95 who live in that area. 

But many Connecticut vets don’t get health care through the VA. About 167,000 vets live in Connecticut, according to Census data. Under current law, the VA can administer the vaccine only to individuals registered in its medical care programs.

But legislation recently introduced in Congress would allow any vet or their caregiver to receive a COVID-19 vaccine through the VA. Blumenthal said he supports the proposal, which, if passed, could help recruit veterans not currently enrolled in VA health care to sign up.  

VA Connecticut is also seeing strong interest among its 3,000 employees, particularly health care personnel, in getting vaccinated. Montoya said nearly 80% of all health care employees working for VA Connecticut have received their vaccinations.

The agency is administering the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines but could also start to receive the newly authorized Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine. The single-dose vaccine differs from others currently in use, which require two shots.

The J&J vaccine could be used to vaccinate homeless vets in Connecticut and those "who may be hesitant to come in for a second time to our health care system," Montoya said. Given the J&J vaccine doesn't require ultra cold storage, it could be used by the VA's community-based outpatient clinics, which don't have the ultra-low temperature freezers required to store the Pfizer vaccine and don't often have a lot of storage capacity in general, Montoya said.

Veterans interested in applying for VA health care should visit: https://www.va.gov/health-care/how-to-apply/.

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