‘Very privileged to get it’: KC veterans begin receiving COVID-19 vaccine

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — More than 200 high-risk Kansas City Veterans received the Moderna vaccine at the VA Medical Center on Saturday.

“When do I come?” 88-year-old Korean War Veteran Carl Sulzen responded when he got the call that he could be among the first veterans to get the vaccine at the facility.

High-risk veterans over the age of 85, on chemotherapy, dialysis or hemodialysis lined up for a shot in the arm to protect them from ending up at the VA with COVID-19.

Moderna’s phase 3 trial found the vaccine was 94% effective in protecting against the virus.

As of Dec. 26, there have been more than 1,400 positive cases of COVID-19 recorded at the Kansas City VA center: 257 patients admitted and 42 deaths.

Just before the amount of positive cases erupted, David Isaacks became the director of the Kansas City VA Center. He believes the vaccine is safe, even for most immunocompromised patients.

“Once the body receives the instructions to start fighting the COVID-19 virus, or protecting the body from it, then it actually goes away,” Isaacks said. “Nothing stays in your body. It’s providing your immune system with those instructions to prevent the COVID disease.”

Air Force veteran Gary Buffington was the first veteran to receive the vaccine. His daughter and granddaughter both work at the VA and also received it.

“I feel great and very privileged to get it,” Buffington said. 

Patty Fraley, Buffington’s daughter and Medical Support Assistant at the VA said, “It’s quite an honor. All of us getting it together. It’s an honor.”

Buffington’s granddaughter, Dr. Christy Mears, is a pharmacist at the VA.  She recognizes that there are questions surrounding the vaccine that are still unanswered, but said if she didn’t think the vaccine was safe, she wouldn’t have encouraged her grandfather to get it.

“The benefit of this vaccine outweighs the risk,” Mears said. “This vaccine has gone through the same rigorous studies as any other medication and vaccine are required to go through. While the process has been sped up, it’s met the same requirements.”

Earlier in the week, the Kansas City VA Medical Center received 1,700 doses of the Moderna vaccine. One-thousand of them went to staff and 700 will go to the veterans. Eventually, they’ll disperse doses to some of the rural areas surrounding the metro.

Isaacks is hopeful that this vaccine will help in bringing back a sense of normalcy.

“Already, just in the last week or two in the metro area, there’s a sense of renewed hope,” Isaacks said. “People see the potential. They see how science has really bought a solution for us to help us combat this and get back to what we consider to be a more normal life.”   

Isaacks does believe things are going to get worse before the vaccine takes effect and the number of cases start to decrease. 

In the next four-to-six weeks, he hopes to start delivering vaccines to VA Clinics in cities like Warrensburg, Cameron, Nevada, and Paola.  

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