The national rollout of COVID-19 vaccines has had mixed results, but the Veterans Affairs Western Colorado Health Care System has experienced a mostly smooth ride.
A mass vaccination event on Saturday at the Grand Junction medical center, 2121 North Ave., highlighted the organization’s success. Veterans already enrolled could receive a dose of the vaccine at any point between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m.
“People are very happy that it’s accessible,” said Richard Salgueiro, executive director of Veterans Affairs Western Colorado.
“We’ve been doing a lot of education on the safety of it. In other communities, that’s often not the case. We’ve had positive responses.”
Vaccinations for staff began in December and for veterans on Jan. 4. Salgueiro said that about 86% of staff have received their doses.
To get their patients on board, Veterans Affairs ramped up education and outreach efforts.
To date, more than 6,000 doses have been administered, with none wasted, Salgueiro said.
Veterans Affairs Western Colorado has a service area of about 48,000 square miles and has clinics in areas such as Craig and Montrose, and Moab, Utah.
While the rollout of the vaccine has been smooth, difficulties come from the logistics of transportation.
“By the time you mix the vaccine, you have a limited amount of time for the shelf life, and Craig is about a four-hour drive from here,” Salgueiro said.
About 49% of veterans in rural areas have been vaccinated. Salgueiro hopes that the single- dose vaccine from Johnson & Johnson can bump up those numbers.
Events like Saturday’s play a critical role in protecting patients from COVID-19.
Thankfully, those efforts appear to be working.
Mark Prouty, a veteran, was at the Grand Junction location early Saturday to be vaccinated. He said the process was painless. It’s a well-run facility, he said, so that was no surprise to him.
“I have three children and five grandchildren,” Prouty said. “You don’t know where this thing’s headed, and I would rather be safe than sorry, especially for them.”
Kayla Holst, director of communications for Veterans Affairs Western Colorado, said that she has seen people from the farthest reaches of their service area find their way to Grand Junction for doses, as well.
“We’ve had several people from Steamboat (Springs) and Moffat (County) drive in,” Holst said. “I had one gentleman spend a night in a hotel and get here at 7 a.m. to beat any lines.”
Veterans Affairs is now offering vaccinations to enrolled veterans of any age, essentially anyone who has received a physical within the previous 24 months, Holst said.
For information, visit www.grandjunction.va.gov or call 970-242-0731.