VA to begin vaccinating vets under 65 with high-risk conditions, essential workers

LAKE CITY, Fla. – The Veterans Health Service of North Florida and South Georgia is expanding its criteria to those who can receive a COVID-19 vaccine to those under 65 years old if they already receive services from the VA for high-risk conditions that could increase the complications if they contracted the virus.

These conditions include obesity, diabetes, COPD, sickle cell disease, kidney disease, smoking, cancer and heart disease.

Donna Garlitz lives in Jacksonville but was in Lake City on Thursday to get her first shot of the vaccine. She is only 64 years old but is eligible because of previous health conditions.

“When I won the battle with breast cancer last year I wanted to make sure I would be OK,” Garlitz said.

For Garlintz she said it was simple — her doctor suggested she get it done now.

“I felt more secure doing it here because if something happened to me my doctors right there in that building,” she said.

Vets told News4Jax the process with the VA has been simple and vaccines are readily available.

The VA’s Health Service will also vaccinate high-risk veterans who are homeless, hemodialysis patients, solid organ transplant patients or patients enlisted for transplant, and chemotherapy patients of any age. It will also vaccinate veterans employed as essential workers (firefighters, police officers, corrections officers, food and agricultural workers, Postal Service workers, manufacturing workers, grocery store workers, public transit workers and those who work in the educational sector (teachers, support staff and daycare workers) of any age. Documentation of employment is required.

“We know that patients that have had those medical conditions that I just mentioned have a greater risk of having an adverse outcome should they contract the disease. So again, we just want to try and protect as many of those people as we can,” said Dr. David Waller, VA Northeast Florida Southeast Georgia.

The clinics will continue to vaccinate anyone in the VA system age 65 and above.

Veterans who are enrolled and eligible who fall into one of the current categories can call 352-548-6000 ext. 103755 to schedule an appointment.

If the vaccine is not available at their preferred site of care, veterans are encouraged to schedule an appointment to receive the vaccine at another Veterans Health Service location or be vaccinated at any VA no-appointment-needed drive-thru/walk up event, including from noon-3 p.m. Thursday at the Malcom Randall Center, 1601 SW Archer Road in Gainesville and 8 a.m.-2 p.m. each day through Friday at the center at 619 S. Marion Ave. in Lake City.

Appointments are also available at the St. Augustine VA Outpatient Clinic at the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Post 2391, at 195 Southpark Blvd. in St. Augustine.

Veterans who have received any other vaccination in the last 14 days or have any COVID or flu-like symptoms will not be vaccinated. Even after being vaccinated, the VA reminds people it is important to continue wearing a mask, washing your hands and staying at least 6 feet from others who don’t live with you.

As supply increases and Veterans Health Service has filled the needs of veterans who meet the current criteria, additional groups of veterans will have the opportunity to schedule an appointment.

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