COVID experts answer questions during town hall - Milwaukee VA Medical Center
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Milwaukee VA Medical Center


COVID experts answer questions during town hall

Drs. Gundacker, Patel and Bell take part in town hall

Taking questions during a virtual town hall Wednesday at the Milwaukee VA Medical Center are, from left, Dr. Nate Gundacker, Dr. Ankur Patel and Dr. Kim Bell.

By David Walter
Wednesday, March 3, 2021

As the Milwaukee VA Medical Center opens up COVID-19 vaccinations for enrolled Veterans age 60 and older, our team of experts answered questions about the virus and the vaccine during a live town hall event Wednesday.

The previous threshold for vaccinations was age 65 and older, but hospital officials lower it to 60 based on vaccine supply and clinic availability.

A walk-in clinic for enrolled veterans who meet the new age requirement begins at 8 a.m. Saturday, March 6, and will continue until 2 p.m. or when the doses are exhausted. About 650 doses will be available.

Upon arrival, Veterans will receive a ticket with a vaccination time, so they don’t have to wait in long lines.

Meanwhile, eligible Veterans are being contacted to set up appointments for vaccination in the hospital’s Matousek and ZIHP clinics.

“We’ve come a long way but we’re not done yet,” said Dr. Ankur Patel, COVID-19 response team director. “Please consider coming in to get the vaccine. We have a lot of availability.”

Here’s a brief look at some of the topics covered by the team, which included Patel, Pharmacy Chief Dr. Kim Bell and Infection Disease Physician Dr. Nate Gundacker, fielded:

Decline in COVID cases

“That’s likely due to a variety of factors, continued masking, social distancing and implementation of our vaccine. … We’ve really seen the impact vaccines can have,” Gundacker said. “The next stage is mass vaccination. … We need to vaccinate as many people as we can to get to that herd immunity.”

How do we know the vaccine is safe?

“These companies went through the regular steps,” Bell said. “They did them in a more condensed fashion. … It was a quick process, but a thorough process.”

How long does the vaccination process take?

”It really only takes about 15 to 20 minutes,” Patel said. “And most of that time is observational.”

Can spouses receive the vaccine?

“No. We can only vaccinate Veterans who are enrolled for care here (at the Milwaukee VA),” Bell said.

What are the differences between the vaccines? (Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson)?

“Pfizer and Moderna use a relatively new technology. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine uses a technology that’s been around a little longer,” Gundacker said, noting that none of the vaccines contain live COVID virus. “All the data suggests they’re all very, very efficacious. … And the rates of hospitalizations in the groups that received the vaccine are miniscule compared to the groups that did not.”

What are the vaccine side effects?

“We’re seeing fevers, chills, body aches, headaches – that sort of thing. And this usually lasts for about a day or two after receiving the vaccine,” Bell said. “We have not seen any of the real severe allergic reactions.”

If I’ve had COVID and recovered, do I need the vaccine?

“I think it’s really important that you get vaccinated,” Gundacker said. “We are seeing that the immunity to natural infection can wane over time, especially if your initial course with COVID is mild.”

Are two shots required?

“Yes, the Pfizer vaccine (which is being administered primarily by Milwaukee VA) is a two-vaccine series … 21 days apart,” Bell said. “For those who come to the walk-in clinic on Saturday, we will schedule that second dose … for Saturday, March 27.”

“But we don’t want that to deter you,” Patel said. “We will work within the approved timeframe – 17 to 30 days – to get you in for your second shot.”

After getting the vaccine, can I stop wearing my mask?

“At this point in time, no,” Gundacker said. “It could prevent you from getting (the disease), but you could still have viral replication. And so if you don’t wear your mask, you could still then transmit it to other people.”

Closing thoughts

“The day that the vaccine rolled into this building, I haven't seen enthusiasm like that. And it really brought a lot of hope,” Patel said. “It was the first tangible moment where we turned around and said here is actually something that is a little light at the end of the tunnel. … This is the one tangible, corrective thing we can all do to end this. … Our No. 1 mission is to take care of you, and this is a major step for us to be successful in doing that.”

To see and hear a replay of the town hall, click here.


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