Last week, on March 24, President Joe Biden signed the Save Lives Act into law, authorizing all veterans, spouses, and caregivers in the VA system to receive a Covid vaccine. The Department of Veterans Affairs took that ball and ran with it, moving forward with plans to roll out a nation-wide vaccination strategy for more than 24 million veterans, spouses, caregivers, and staff within its system by May 1.
Here’s what the process of getting your Covid vaccine from the VA is like:
The VA will notify you of your eligibility to get the Covid Vaccine
On Sunday, March 28th, I received an e-mail from the VA telling me that I was eligible to receive the vaccine immediately, with an attached link to set an appointment. The e-mail was short and simple, telling me I could make an appointment online while also offering a phone number I could call with questions.
The link it provided me was to a webpage on the Georgia Department of Public Health site, asking for my personal information and address so it could locate a vaccination center near me. Although I live in somewhat-rural Georgia, I’m only about an hour (not counting traffic) outside of Atlanta–so I assumed I’d have to brave the city traffic to get my shot, but was pleasantly surprised to find a number of satellite vaccination locations all around my area–some even further from the city, and its VA medical center, than I already live. Instead of picking a one-hour drive (that would surely come with two hours of traffic) into the heart of Atlanta, I was able to book an easy-access appointment in nearby (and almost completely traffic-free) Dahlonega.
Booking my appointment was a snap
The process of booking my appointment was extremely simple: I answered a few easy questions, chose my location, and then picked a time on the schedule that worked for me. We were unsure whether or not the VA would also give my wife the vaccine at the time, so we chose to only book my appointment and take it from there. Incredibly, I was able to find plenty of openings for the very next day, which was not my experience when looking for vaccination options in the civilian sector (most locations around here are already booked for the next month or two). The location of my appointment was in the Lumpkin Senior Center in Dahlonega, Georgia.
Immediately after setting my appointment, I received a confirmation e-mail with a QR code to show when I arrived.
The team at the vaccination site were fast and extremely professional
When I arrived at the vaccination location this morning, I was asked to provide my military or veteran ID and the QR code I was sent in the e-mail. It’s worth noting that some other people seemed to have little trouble navigating the process despite having forgotten their military or VA IDs by using their QR code and driver’s licenses.
Once my ID and appointment were confirmed, I was asked to have a seat (in socially-distanced chairs they provided) to fill out a small questionnaire about whether or not I’ve had Covid-19 or am exhibiting any symptoms. After a few short minutes with the paperwork, I was escorted to a table with a friendly lady who asked if I had a preferred arm for the injection. I chose my left arm, because it’s got my dumbest and funniest moto-tattoo–and I knew I’d be taking a picture to accompany this story.
As easy as 1-2-3
After I received the Moderna Covid vaccine in my left arm, I was handed a card that I could both use as proof of receiving it and as a reminder of my follow-up appointment for the second dose next month. I was asked to hang around the waiting area for 15 minutes to make sure I didn’t have any sort of negative reaction to the injection.
During my 15-minute break, I asked one of the people running the site if my wife could also receive the vaccine today despite not having an appointment. To my surprise, they were happy to oblige, so we were both able to drive home this morning with shared glee over being one step closer to getting back to whatever iteration of “normal” we’re hopefully closing in on.
After receiving the Moderna Covid vaccine from the VA, we’ve experienced little to no side effects (so far)
Because of the rapid development rate on each available Covid vaccine, it’s hard to ignore concerns about any potential side effects, and to be clear, the Moderna vaccine is known to leave you feeling a bit under the weather. According to the CDC, common side effects after vaccination can include fever, chills, tiredness, and headache–though these symptoms are considered more common after the second dose.
It’s been a few hours now, and I honestly do feel tired with a bit of a headache–something similar to a low-grade sinus infection or head cold. My wife hasn’t experienced any negative effects whatsoever, so clearly your experiences may vary.
Here are some other bullet points on the Moderna Covid vaccine we received from the VA. Put simply, it looks as though it may make you feel pretty crummy for a few days, not unlike a flu shot.
- In clinical trials, reactogenicity symptoms (side effects that happen within 7 days of getting vaccinated) were common but were mostly mild to moderate.
- Side effects (such as fever, chills, tiredness, and headache) throughout the body were more common after the second dose of the vaccine.
- Most side effects were mild to moderate. However, a small number of people had severe side effects that affected their ability to do daily activities.
We’ve still got a long way to go
As of today, March 28, more than 93 million Americans have received a minimum of their first dose of a covid vaccine, with nearly 52 million fully vaccinated. Despite how big that figure may look, it only represents about 28% of the nation’s population–which means we still have a lot of ground to cover before we can finally put Covid in our rearview mirror.
The vaccine rollout is sure to hit snags, and indeed, it already has in many places, but that’s the nature of such a large scale and utterly unprecedented effort. The best thing you can do to help get things back to normal as quickly as possible is to get the vaccine when you’re given the opportunity. If you aren’t sure if you’re currently eligible for a Covid vaccine, check with your local state government website or on this rundown of eligibility requirements by state.
If you are a veteran enrolled in VA healthcare, you will likely receive an e-mail soon, just like I did yesterday. For more information on the VA’s rollout of the vaccine, check here.