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Durham VA patients, as well as staffers, get coronavirus vaccine

Posted December 15, 2020 6:48 p.m. EST
Updated December 15, 2020 7:53 p.m. EST

— A Navy veteran was first in line Tuesday to receive a coronavirus vaccination at the Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in Durham.

Oliver Vick was among 25 veterans in the Durham VA Healthcare System's long-term care facility who volunteered to receive their first dose of the vaccine. Vick said he considers it a duty to help defeat the virus, and he was glad to once again serve his country.

"We have been held captive for too long by this virus," he said. "This is just our way of fighting back. It’s going to make a big difference for everybody.”

The Durham VA got 2,925 doses of Pfizer's vaccine on Tuesday. It's among 37 VA hospitals nationwide chosen to receive the first shipments, and the trays of vials were quickly unpacked and put in ultra-cold freezers there for storage.

"Our team is ready to deploy vaccination tomorrow, and our goal is that we will vaccinate all veterans and staff on Wednesday and possibly Thursday," said Melissa Durkee, associate chief of pharmacy for the Durham VA.

Paul Crews, director of the Durham VA, said that, as is the case at other hospitals, staffers there will be the main focus of early vaccination efforts.

"It is important to us to make sure that our high-risk health care workers get this vaccine to make sure that we will them have around to give that vaccine later," Crews said.

The Durham VA expects to see a second shipment of vaccines by late December or early January, which will allow the staff to begin vaccinating veterans who don't live in the long-term care facility, officials said.

"We know that we have over 70,000 veterans we are responsible for, and we will be getting vaccinations to those veterans," Crews said. “I’m ready. Let’s get it on.”

Vaccine also was shipped to Womack Army Medical Center on Fort Bragg on Tuesday.

Roni Paul, a former Army medic who now works as an emergency room nurse and nurse educator, was first in line there to get vaccinated.

“This is a milestone moment for us here on Fort Bragg,” Lt. Gen. Michael “Erik” Kurilla, commander of XVIII Airborne Corps and Fort Bragg, said in a statement. “We would not have arrived at this moment without our first responders, medics, health care workers and the incredible staff of the Womack Army Medical Center.”

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