Veterans Affairs officials marked a pair of very different coronavirus milestones this week: more than 1 million coronavirus vaccine doses administered in the last month and a half, and more than 9,000 patient deaths in the last 11 months.
The vaccine doses administered include about 400,000 shots given to VA employees and 626,000 shots given to veterans at the highest risk of medical complications related to the virus, according to information released by the department.
VA leaders have also for the first time begun releasing public data on vaccine distribution, including the sites with the most total doses and completed vaccine regimens. Of the top 10 VA medical sites in total doses administered, five are in Florida: Orlando, Tampa, Gainesville, Bay Pines and West Palm Beach.
Vaccinations began at VA facilities in mid-December, around the same time that deaths among VA patients began to rapidly increase.
As of Tuesday evening, at least 9,250 patients being tracked by the department had died from complications related to the virus since the start of the pandemic last spring. That equates to about 29 deaths a day over the last 11 months.
Another 123 VA employees have also died from coronavirus-related issues.
More than 2,400 VA patient deaths from the virus were reported in January, by far the most of any single month in the pandemic. That total was almost 1,700 in December and more than 900 in November. Those three months alone account for 55 percent of all VA coronavirus deaths in the last 11 months.
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Active cases of the virus among VA patients have decreased somewhat in recent weeks. After peaking at almost 21,000 cases across the country in mid-January, the department on Tuesday evening reported 11,551 across 140 medical facilities.
The active case totals and death counts have largely followed national trends. More than 26 million Americans have contracted the virus over the course of the pandemic — one in every 13 citizens — and more than 440,000 have died from virus-related complications.
VA is currently administering at more than 200 sites nationally, with plans to expand as supplies increase.
“As with states distributing vaccines, VA is currently in the limited supply phase, anticipating an increase in weekly vaccine doses in March,” officials said in a statement. “Until VA receives an increase in vaccines, many facilities may temporarily run out of vaccines for short periods of time.”
Department leaders have warned that it could be months before the department can fill the expected demand among VA patients and employees, estimated at more than 7 million.
About Leo Shane III
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.