Kentucky medical center vaccinates veterans against COVID-19

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Before the coronavirus hit Kentucky in March, Marine Corps veteran Theodore McNeal enjoyed golfing every day and hosting friends and family at his Springfield home.

For months, his social life has taken a dive: No more watching the University of Kentucky Wildcats play with friends or frequently leaving the house to meet up with others.

“Like for everybody else,” said McNeal, 73, who has battled stage 4 lung cancer since October, “it’s been a pain.”

In what he hopes marks the beginning of life getting back to normal, he was one of the first few non-employee veterans to get his initial dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine on Wednesday at Robley Rex Medical Center’s drive-thru clinic.

The Louisville VA center kicked off its drive-thru for high-risk veterans, those 75 and older and those living in congregate settings, with 30 scheduled appointments. The number of veterans who can get through the site in a day will increase, but for now staff are focused on working out any kinks.

One of the challenges with this vaccine is it has to be thawed, and then there’s a short window for use, said Stephen Black, the medical center’s director.

“These veterans deserve every single drop we have,” he said. “We want to make sure we don’t waste any, and that’s why we’re starting off slowly, but we’re learning.”

After the capacity uptick, the number of vets coming through the site will be determined by how many vaccine doses Robley Rex is allocated from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

The center has 2,500 doses and expects to get up to 700 more doses next week, Black said. It has reached out to more than 3,000 eligible veterans, with about 2,000 agreeing to get inoculated.

The center received 1,500 doses of the Moderna vaccine on Dec. 22 and began vaccinating health care workers and will continue to do so, even as non-employee veterans gain access.

So far, Black said, the center has vaccinated more than 1,000 of its 2,000 staff members. Getting the shot is not mandatory.

The VA’s vaccine supply is separate from the commonwealth’s supply. The latter has thus far received 227,850 doses and administered 77,349.

Meanwhile, Kentucky on Wednesday broke its daily record for coronavirus cases, with Gov. Andy Beshear announcing 5,742 new positive tests, along with 34 deaths.

The state’s positivity rate is now 11.7%, and 1,778 people are hospitalized, 428 are in intensive care units and 244 are on ventilators. Kentucky has reported 2,806 total deaths, 286,541 total cases and 37,821 recoveries from the some 3.5 million tests administered.

Of the record case total, 828 were from Jefferson County.

Amid the growing cases, “Veterans (having) the opportunity to get these shots is a wonderful, wonderful thing,” McNeal said. “I think they’ve always led the way in the right things and taking this shot’s right. Might help a lot of people, a lot of lives.”

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

Robley Rex staff will reach out to veterans who are eligible for inoculation “as vaccine supplies increase.” A veteran not receiving medical care from the center can still call 502-287-5591 and see if she or he is eligible.

Staff are reaching out to veterans they have identified as at high risk for complications due to COVID-19, those over 75 and those in congregate living settings to schedule the first of two Moderna doses.

The drive-thru features check-in points, a tent under which staff administer the doses and parking areas where the veterans wait for observation after getting the shot.