First Veterans get COVID vaccine at Milwaukee VA - Milwaukee VA Medical Center
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Milwaukee VA Medical Center


First Veterans get COVID vaccine at Milwaukee VA

First Veteran to get COVID vaccine

Veteran Ron Nerison gets the COVID-19 vaccine Friday in the Spinal Cord Injury Center at the Milwaukee VA Medical Center, administered by registered nurse Arch Johnston. (Photo by Benjamin Slane)

By David Walter
Friday, December 18, 2020

The moment gave Arch Johnston chills.

“Look – I’ve got goosebumps,” said the Milwaukee VA Medical Center registered nurse, after he gave Ron Nerison the COVID-19 vaccine.

Nerison, 72, of Little Chute, Wis., was the first Veteran at the hospital to receive the vaccine. Distribution started Wednesday with critical front-line health care workers and progressed to the most vulnerable Veterans on Friday.

Nerison is a patient in the hospital’s Spinal Cord Injury Center, and he said he was happy to be the first.

“It feels great,” he said. “Anything to help the cause. If this is what it takes to clear it up, I’m all for it.”

The Milwaukee VA received 2,925 doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine on Tuesday and inoculated the first health-care workers on Wednesday.

Pharmacy Chief Dr. Kim Bell estimated around 200 had been vaccinated by Friday afternoon, when the shots made their way to the SCI.

Johnston figured he had given more than 100 shots since Wednesday.

Johnston said he wanted to be the nurse giving the first shots to Veterans.

“It’s been a real joy to help the employees, especially the veteran employees over the past couple of days, but in the back of my mind I just wanted to get to the Veterans – especially these guys and gals who are at the greatest risk,” Johnston said.

“I couldn’t be prouder to be in the room.”

After inoculating Nerison, Johnston said, “I’m very happy to do this for you. Happy holidays.”

Nerison grinned.

“I didn’t feel anything, so it must be good,” he said.

Bell talks to Nerison about vaccine

Pharmacy Chief Kim Bell talks with Veteran Ron Nerison before Nerison became the first Veteran at the Milwaukee VA Medical Center to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

Bell accompanied Johnston as they made their rounds through the SCI, with Bell explaining the procedure to Veterans, along with possible side effects.

She stressed that while the side effects may resemble having COVID, that isn’t the case.

“You’re not sick from COVID,” she said. “It’s your body learning how to fight off COVID.”

The second Veteran to get the shot, Billy Lynk, asked Bell and Johnston if they had gotten the shot yet.

“I would if I had the opportunity, but I’m not high risk,” Johnston said. “It’s for our most highest risk Veterans, and you’re one of them.”

Veterans in long-term care facilities are in the first patient group to be vaccinated. As vaccine supplies increase, additional Veterans will receive vaccinations based on factors such as age, existing health problems and other considerations that increase the risk of severe illness or death from COVID-19.

Bell, who has been at the forefront of the vaccination push this week – including doing numerous interviews with Milwaukee media – said she is gratified to see the payoff for all the planning.

“It’s great to finally see all of our plans put into action,” she said. “It’s amazing just to hear how excited everybody is to get vaccinated.”

Johnston agreed.

“I haven’t seen this many people excited to get a shot in my whole lifetime,” he said. “That makes it easier.

“I couldn’t be more excited to do it. This is what it’s all about. These are difficult times, and people are in their most vulnerable moments, and this an opportunity to give them some hope – especially those who bore the battle”



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