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VA facilities vaccinate Maine, NH veterans


PORTSMOUTH, N.H.–The Portsmouth Senior Activity Center swelled with Veterans of all eras and branches of service a week ago as a tri-state team from VA New England Healthcare System (HCS) conducted a COVID vaccination clinic for Veteran patients living in Maine and New Hampshire.

The event, coordinated with support from Portsmouth community partners, was designed to balance the distribution of COVID-19 vaccine across VA New England HCS. VA Maine and VA Manchester Healthcare Systems were each allotted appointments for 250 Veterans, while VA Bedford HCS, Mass., supplied the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine and the clinic staff.

“We knew there were shortages of the Moderna vaccine at other locations, so we came up with the idea to help our Veterans at our sister New England facilities by sharing our supply of Pfizer,” Mary Anderson, VA Bedford’s Associate Director for Patient Care said.

VA health care worker administering Pfizer vaccine to Veteran at the tri-state COVID vaccination clinic this past weekend in Portsmouth, NH. (Photo courtesy of VA New England)

Anderson’s original idea was to conduct the vaccination clinic in an area that would be easily accessible to both Maine and New Hampshire Veterans and still comply with state guidelines for COVID precautions.

“Portsmouth seemed like the perfect area,” Anderson said. “VA Manchester reached out to Portsmouth city officials and within a few hours, they offered us the Senior Activity Center and onsite ambulance support.”

VA Manchester’s Director, Kevin Forrest, said, “Community partnerships such as the one with City of Portsmouth are invaluable in the fight against COVID. Everybody has the same goal in mind, and that is to get the vaccine into arms.”

According to Forrest, community partnerships allow VA to deliver services in the community where it is most convenient to Veterans.

“Having an integrated healthcare system approach has further empowered VA to make COVID-19 vaccines more available to Veterans,” he said. “It’s very rewarding to be part of this effort that has everyone giving their all-in support to help those who served.”

VA Bedford has had a continuous supply of the Pfizer vaccine, being one of two VA facilities in New England with the proper cold storage specifications the vaccine requires. VA Bedford Director Joan Clifford stated that by sharing VA Bedford’s vaccine stores and clinical operation and staff, they could maximize resources within VA, the nation’s largest integrated healthcare system.

“We’ve realized greater efficiencies by empowering VA New England Healthcare System staff to operationalize regionally without concern for state borders,” Clifford said. “It’s a testament to the strength of VA.”

Clifford said her staff regularly shares how rewarding it is to work in the vaccination clinics.

“I can attest to the same having had the opportunity to roll my sleeves up and work at these clinics,” she said. “It has been such an incredible honor to be able to protect all who have protected us in this unprecedented way.”

Leadership of all three facilities stated that collaboration and sharing of best practices made implementation of a large-scale and quickly orchestrated event like this one seamless, even across state lines.

“Our [VA New England HCS] integrated healthcare system is stronger than any one facility and what happened here today is proof of that,” VA Maine Associate Director for Business Operations Russell Armstead said. “This is huge; this is what partnership looks like.”

Veterans who came to the event admitted they were unsure of what to expect, especially those who came from Maine, like Army Veteran Janet Paquin, a crane operator. However, they stated their fears were unfound. Paquin reported on the way out, “I am thrilled to have been able to be here today to receive my vaccine, and I, like millions of people, are ready get life back to normal.”

Other Veterans who were vaccinated felt compelled to reach out following the event.

Andrew Corrow, retired Army Medical Service Corps officer and New Hampshire Veterans of Foreign Wars Department (state) surgeon sent an email.

“I have to pass this along to you all,” Corrow wrote. “I got my first vaccine shot today at the VA vaccine clinic in Portsmouth. Holy cow. It was like a military operation. Crazy efficient. I was in and out in 30 minutes even with the 15-minute wait.”

Anderson, a nurse herself, said the vaccination clinic is a wonderful place to work because the Veterans are hopeful and happy to receive the vaccine.

“A lot of people go into nursing to make a difference,” she said. “For me, this makes a difference. These Veterans are interested in being able to see their children and grandchildren again. We might not get back to normal, but we can give them hope about opening up a new world.”

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