Veterans' Caregivers Are Getting COVID-19 Vaccine Priority, VA Says

Caregiver staff wave to family of veteran clients
Caregiver staff wave to family of veteran clients as they drive through the parking lot of the Arizona State Veteran Home to chat with their veteran family member from a safe distance due to the coronavirus, May 28, 2020, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Those enrolled in the Department of Veterans Affairs caregiver program will receive COVID-19 vaccines at roughly the same time as the veterans they assist, according to new information provided by the VA.

The department plans to provide testing and vaccines to those in the Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers when the enrolled veteran is eligible, based on guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, VA spokeswoman Christina Noel said.

A formal announcement with information on distribution is forthcoming, she added.

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The decision to include caregivers was made by Dr. Richard Stone, Veterans Health Administration executive in charge, according to the Independence Fund, a nonprofit that supports seriously ill or injured veterans.

According to the group, the VA needed to work with the Department of Health and Human Services and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to receive permission to administer the vaccine to caregivers.

"The laws and regulations on this issue are very complex," said Bob Carey, executive vice president for advocacy and strategy at the Independence Fund. "But the VHA team leading this vaccine effort ... were dogged in finding a solution. They've done yeoman's work to make this happen."

Dr. Kameron Matthews, the VA's assistant under secretary for health for clinical services, and Dr. Jane Kim, its chief consultant for preventive medicine, played a significant role in the approval, Carey added.

As of Friday, the VA had received nearly a million doses of vaccine and administered 284,697, including 252,993 first doses and 31,397 second doses, according to the CDC.

The numbers may not be the most up-to-date, however, as local organizations must report their numbers up to the CDC.

As of last week, more than 188,000 VA employees and 66,000 veterans had been vaccinated, according to the VA.

Nearly 188,000 veteran patients, employees and others cared for in the VA system have tested positive for the coronavirus since the beginning of the outbreak. There had been 7,747 deaths as of Friday, including 479 recorded since Monday;111 VA employees have died.

-- Patricia Kime can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @patriciakime.

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