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Portland VA system expands COVID vaccinations for veterans

Starting Monday, Jan. 11, the VA will expand the pool of local veterans eligible to receive the vaccine.

PORTLAND, Ore. — The VA Portland Health Care System is expanding the pool of veterans who can receive COVID-19 vaccinations.

Clare O'Geary, the Portland VA's COVID-19 vaccine coordinator, said the system has already vaccinated many essential health care workers and veterans.

The first veterans in long-term care got the shot at the Vancouver campus in mid-December.

Since then, the VA has vaccinated dialysis and chemotherapy patients, too.

The VA's expanded list includes people who are 75 and older, especially those with other conditions that put them at higher risk.

The VA is contacting veterans directly based off age and clinical condition. It asks veterans not to call into the system to inquire about vaccinations in the meantime. It encourages people to check updates online instead.

"If they get the call, please take the vaccine," O'Geary said.

Starting Monday, Jan. 11, the VA system will host vaccine clinics for veterans in spread-out rooms.

Over the course of three months, O'Geary said the VA aims to vaccinate about 61,000 veterans, spanning the VA's seven regional sites in Portland, Vancouver, Hillsboro, West Linn, Salem, Fairview and Bend.

RELATED: Vancouver veterans, VA staff vaccinated for COVID-19

The VA recently received permission to ship vaccines as needed.

"Transported in a refrigerator with continuous monitoring," O'Geary described.

The Portland VA system can also tap into its federal network if it needs more vaccines.

"We are able to pull from resources that are across the country and get best practices that others, too, have set up," O'Geary said.

This way, unused vaccines within one regional system can be shipped to another, rather than be wasted.

O'Geary encouraged people to embrace the vaccine when its their turn.

"This is the best way that we can fight the COVID virus across the country," she said. "That will allow us to remain healthy and be able to get back to what we used to call a normal life."

RELATED: COVID-19 vaccines go to Oregon hospital employees who don't have contact with patients