MINNEAPOLIS — Ninety-seven percent.
That’s how many veterans in the Minnesota Veterans Homes said they were willing to get the COVID-19 vaccine, according to a survey the state-run system conducted.
“I believe that they trust in the staff that takes care of them,” said Deputy Commissioner of Veterans Affairs Douglas Hughes.
Some of the residents and staff at the Minneapolis Veterans Homes began receiving the COVID-19 vaccine today, Dec. 29.
The state’s Minnesota Veterans Homes system received the vaccinations last week and performed a soft rollout of their vaccination steps in preparation for doing all five locations. Twin Cities media was present.
“With this vaccine, this is the beginning of the end,” Hughes said.
On Wednesday, Dec. 30, vaccinations will be given to residents at the Fergus Falls and Silver Bay homes, followed by vaccinations for staff.
Vaccines for the rest of the Minneapolis location will happen Dec. 31. The vaccines will come to the Luverne home on Jan. 4, Hughes said.
As a domiciliary facility, rather than nursing, Hastings will see vaccines in February, he said.
Vaccines are being given at the Minnesota Veterans Homes because all long-term care providers in Minnesota are vaccinating residents and staff this week.
Minneapolis is the largest of the five veterans homes. It has 260 residents and 550 staff.
Hughes said the same survey found 35 percent of staff said yes, 30 percent maybe and 35 percent said no. However, follow-up surveys are seeing rising results: 50 percent yes, 20 maybe and 30 no.
“We believe we will achieve 70 to 80 percent of the staff,” Hughes said.
Some of the “no” replies, he said, might have been “wait and see” types, while others firmly refuse it.
“As a health care worker, my obligation is to do no harm. I would think that would fit into it, getting the vaccine,” Hughes said.
Like a flu shot
The deputy commissioner said reactions to the vaccine have not been bad. It hurts less than a shingles shot and about the same as a tetanus or flu shot. He said a couple of vaccine receivers have experienced fatigue as a side effect.
He didn’t have his specific numbers in front of him, but Hughes said the rate of death during the pandemic was only slightly higher than a typical pre-COVID year and on par with a strong flu season. He said respiratory diseases will work their course in a group setting.
“That’s just the way it is,” Hughes said.
“Encouraged” is the word Senior Director of Veterans Health Care Simone Hogan said about beginning vaccinations.
She said the staff has performed wonderfully. She is glad the veterans homes are getting closer to the end of the pandemic.
“We really do need to thank our staff. They have risen up to the challenge,” she said. “We are pleased with their efforts.”
She also thanked the families of veterans for being “supportive and understanding.” Many of them could not visit their loved ones because of strict visitation rules.
Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs Chief of Staff Mike McElhiney, a veteran of the Army Special Forces, said he would encourage all veterans in Minnesota to get vaccinated when the time comes.
“I don’t know why a veteran would not want to get it,” he said. “They got vaccines in the military. It’s just one vaccination in the line of many to keep us healthy.”
The sooner people get it, he said, the sooner life gets back to normal.
He said he has witnessed the hard work and dedication of medical professionals and trust people in the field to have the best interest of the public at heart.
“They are professionals, and they are going to do it right,” McElhiney said.
Hughes said the Minnesota Veterans Homes, for 10 months, have had to navigate ever-changing guidance from the Minnesota Department of Health and the federal Centers for Disease Control.
However, staff at the five homes have adapted quickly. The fives homes act as one unit, he said.
“We communicated as quickly as we could after guidelines would come out,” he said.
Hughes has a background in the pharmaceutical industry, and the accelerated speed with which the vaccine trials and approvals took place “is phenomenal,” he said.
“And to be 95 percent effective, that’s phenomenal, too.”