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Army veteran first to be vaccinated at Salisbury VA

SALISBURY — Thomas Vaughn knows a thing or two about vaccinations.

Vaughn, an Army veteran and resident of the Community Living Center on the campus of the W.G. “Bill” Hefner Medical Center, was responsible for giving vaccinations to fellow service members when he served in the 82nd Airborne.

“I learned the importance of taking your vaccine and I’m a firm believer that, if it’s offered, I’ll take it,” Vaughn said Tuesday, moments before he received the first dose of his vaccination for COVID-19.

The Salisbury VA says he was the first person vaccinated for the strain of coronavirus on its campus. Vaughn, originally from Greensboro, said he’s likely been vaccinated for about everything on the planet, particularly now that he’s received the first of two doses for a coronavirus that’s caused a global pandemic. Nurse Manager Tinky Whittington rolled up the left sleeve of his black and white plaid shirt, put on a bandage and it was done.

“I didn’t feel nothing,” he said. “I thought you were going to use one of those big needles that go all the way to the bone … If somebody is worried about getting it and if everybody does ’em as good as she did, then receiving it is not going to be a problem.”

Trent Sutherland, chief of pharmacy service, said the Salisbury VA received 1,950 doses of the Pfizer vaccine and 2,500 of the Moderna vaccine mid-morning on Tuesday. It came in a plain UPS delivery truck, brought to the facility’s pharmacy and prepared with a bit more caution than usual because of the significance of the moment. Because the vaccines have about the same efficacy and that the Pfizer vaccine requires special freezers for storage, Sutherland said the W.G. “Bill” Hefner VA Medical Center will administer the Pfizer vaccine. The Salisbury VA’s health care centers elsewhere in the state will administer the Moderna vaccine, which is easier to store and transport.

Because both vaccines require two doses, the same one must be administered for the second dose, Sutherland said. A person who receives the Pfizer vaccine first should not receive the Moderna vaccine several weeks later for the second dose.

Administering vaccines is old hat for medical professionals, but the arrival of vaccines on Tuesday was a moment that generated more excitement that usual, Sutherland said.

Dave Collins, acting medical center director, said the facility was excited to receive the vaccines and administer them to health care personnel and residents of Community Living Center, which saw a COVID-19 outbreak earlier in the year among staff members.

“Receiving the vaccine is like having hope delivered,” Collins said. “As vaccine supplies increase, our goal is to offer COVID-19 vaccination to all veterans and employees who want to be vaccinated.”

Vaccinating veterans against COVID-19 “really touches on why we are here,” Sutherland said, “to take care of our veterans, who took care of us and our nation.”

The Salisbury VA plans to continue vaccinations Thursday and take a break for Christmas, resuming next week. As vaccines become available for more groups of veterans, VA care teams will reach out to eligible veterans to schedule vaccinations. There is no need to pre-register or come to a facility to sign up, a news release said.

Even after receiving a COVID-19 vaccination, employees and veterans are being encouraged to continue wearing face coverings, practicing physical distancing and washing hands often.

Thirty-seven medical centers began offering the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to health care personnel and veterans on Dec 14. Salisbury is among 26 VA facilities that received an additional allocation of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine this week.

Salisbury VA is also designated to receive and distribute the first limited supply of Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to five North Carolina community-based outpatient clinics and VA Health Care Centers in Kernersville, Greenville, Charlotte, Fayetteville, and Wilmington next week.

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