COLUMBIA, S.C. — The Columbia Dorn VA has been able to administer the coronavirus vaccine to thousands of veterans and staff within the last month.
"At the Columbia VA, we're excited to be offering the Moderna vaccine," said David Omura, CEO of the Columbia VA Healthcare System. "We have a lot of veterans today that are coming in for treatment and we have several at our other building that are actually getting in line for the vaccination."
So far the Columbia VA has administered the vaccine to 2,500 veterans and staff. This includes 46% of the staff who work at the Dorn VA.
Vaccinations on campus are happening in their auditorium building.
"We have that setup so people can come in and park in Lot 17. They can be screened and brought into that area for their vaccination," explained Omura. "After they've received their vaccination they'll be monitored, make sure they are okay and then they'll be signed up to come back 28 days from now for a future appointment."
Omura says they've had several people enroll in their health care for the first time.
Those who are eligible to receive the vaccine through the Columbia VA includes veterans. This does not include family members. The best way to find out if you're eligible is by getting in contact with their enrollment center. People can call 803-776-4000 and dial option 5. The phone line is available from 8:00 am until 4:30 pm Monday through Friday.
"By doing that, you'll hear from one of our enrollment coordinators and we can see how to move you through the process to see if you're eligible," said Omura.
The Columbia VA says they are continuing to follow CDC guidelines with age requirements and making sure the oldest veterans are taken care of first.
"We are also making sure that anyone out there that is interested in the vaccine and maybe needs more information, we're either reaching out to you if you fall within those age requirements directly. But if you are not within those requirements and you have questions, then you just reach out to us," said Omura.
"Certainly we have many veterans at 70 and older group and we're looking at them closely. Some of them don't realize still they're eligible so we're really trying to get a hold of them in any way possible," said Omura. "If members of our community know of a veteran that falls in that group, please send them our way so we can take care of them because we know the vaccine across the nation is in limited supply."
The Columbia VA says when veterans sign up for their first vaccination appointment, they also receive a confirmation for their second appointment.
One of the veterans who received the vaccine include John Gergulis. He is now involved with the Fort Jackson Advisory Council.
"The vaccine was administered, had a 15-minute waiting period post shot, no issues and I was out of there," said Gergulis.
Gergulis believes the process of getting set up for appointments and getting the vaccine is pretty simple.
"It was seamless, very, very professional, painless and we were in and out with very, very little time spent there at the VA," explained Gergulis.
Gergulis says he's grateful for the support of the Columbia VA and the staff for helping people get vaccinated.
Omura says they're thankful they've received support during the pandemic. They've had additional funds made available to them so they can hire more staff, to make sure they have enough of the vaccine and to make sure they have the reagent they need to do testing for the coronavirus. The CEO feels like they will have everything they need for the rest of the pandemic.
"I hope people that are watching this story today recognize that we're all in this together, we can be successful to help our veterans as well as our civilians to be successful. If we all take the time to get the vaccine, I really do believe by mid-summer, we're going to be in a lot better shape than we've been in for the past year. I'm excited to get COVID-19 behind us and for us to enjoy life again."