VA working to vaccinate veterans in rural Washington, Montana and Idaho

SANDPOINT, Idaho - For many people in rural areas, getting ahold of a COVID-19 vaccine is a challenge. That's why the Veterans Affairs Administration (VA) is sending medical buses around rural Washington, Montana and Idaho to vaccinate our servicemen and women. 

Crew members on board say many veterans in rural areas aren't so sure about getting vaccinated, but that's not stopping them from making long trips to answer questions and offer the shot. For some, like Marine Corps Veteran Roger Davis, all he needed was to hear the experience of others.

"A good friend of mine said they already had their shots and I said, 'Where did you get them?' and it wasn't the next day I got a call from the VA saying, 'We're going to be in Sandpoint, Idaho' and I said, 'Sign me up, I'm gonna be there.'"

Since the vaccine has become more readily available, the VA has been commuting across rural Washington, Montana and Idaho to give veterans easier access to the shot. 

Davis said he originally wanted to wait and see if there would be any long-term side effects.

“Many people that I've talked to haven't had any adverse side effects,” Davis said. “So I decided it was time to get off my butt and go down and get some shots.” 

So far, the VA's put 4,500 miles on the bus and administered nearly 800 vaccines. 

"One of the things the team has demonstrated is taking care of the vets and answering their questions works," U.S. Secretary of the VA Denis McDonough said on trip to Spokane, Washington earlier this week.   

Montana Democrat Senator Jon Tester, who oversees the funding for these mobile clinics, said vaccine hesitancy isn't rare, and that these clinics give him hope. 

"In rural America, across the country there is more hesitancy towards the vaccine than there is in urban areas. There's a libertarian aspect to rural areas in our country and I understand that they want the government to stay out of their lives.” Tester said. “I understand that, but this is a big issue I don't think anybody wants to go through another year like last year and it's really important to get the shot." 

Staff touring with the bus said people have walked away without getting vaccinated, but for the most part, people's questions can be answered on board. Davis was one of those people, and says on top of hearing his friends' experiences, having the chance to get answers made him want to get the shot.

"I was definitely hesitant, but now after going through the first shot, nor I've got the second, I don't see any- I don't anticipate any problems because I've already gone through it once, so I'm not anticipating any adverse side effects from it," Davis said.  

 The VA's goal is to educate veterans across these rural areas so they know the vaccine is safe. Right now, the bus will continue its journey across the region to vaccinate veterans from Libby, Montana to everywhere in between.

Now that Davis has received both of his shots, here's what he said is next for him: "Carry on with my life as usual," he said. "[Bradley: You're not going to go to the bar?] I would not  swear on that at all, matter of fact, I'm probably going there right after this interview [laughs]." 

The VA said they're standing by with both the Moderna and Johnson and Johnson vaccines. The VA said they're ready and able to vaccinate veterans, spouses and caregivers. All anyone has to do is call the VA medical center's vaccination reservation line at (509) 434-7957.

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