Senate committee hears Veterans Affairs COVID-19 vaccination plan

WASHINGTON — The Department of Veterans Affairs is preparing to administer thousands of COVID-19 vaccines to the vets they serve.

The VA says there are questions about its ability to transport the vaccine, which has to be stored in extremely cold temperatures.

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However, the agency says there are at least three dozen VA facilities so far equipped to take in the vaccine once it’s approved.

Lawmakers were critical of the VA during a Senate Committee meeting Wednesday for not yet releasing  the details of its distribution plan.

“Why can’t we be more transparent about what the staff and veterans need to expect,” Sen. Jon Tester of Montana asked.

Dr. Richard Stone, Executive in Charge of the Veterans Health Administration, said their plan still depends on the department’s ability to move the Pfizer vaccine, which has to be stored at minus 70 degrees Celsius.

The VA says there are 37 sites prepared to accept the Pfizer vaccine once it’s approved by the Food and Drug Administration, and 188 sites ready for the Moderna vaccine, if approved.

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The VA says it initially requested 73,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine that’s expected to get approval by this weekend.

They’ve submitted requests for 122,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine.

The department cautions that amount is still a long way from covering all the veterans under their care.

“This will be a long process for us to reach all seven million veterans who we believe will want vaccination from us, as well as all 400 employees of the agency,” Dr. Stone said.

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VA officials also discussed how the pandemic has led to a backlog of about 200,000 disability claims.

They’re working to catch up now that in-person interviews for claims have resumed.