'Operation Big Shot' ramps up at Milwaukee VA - Milwaukee VA Medical Center
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Milwaukee VA Medical Center


'Operation Big Shot' ramps up at Milwaukee VA

Ernestine Hunt-Land is vaccinated by Celine Zacharias

U.S. Army Veteran Ernestine Hunt-Land is vaccinated by Registered Nurse Celine Zacharias in the Matousek Clinic Friday, Feb. 5, at the Milwaukee VA Medical Center. Hunt-Land served in Vietnam.

By David Walter
Friday, February 5, 2021

“Operation Big Shot” is off to a big start.

The Milwaukee VA Medical Center’s unprecedented campaign to vaccinate as many Veterans and employees as possible is in full gear, with hundreds of Veterans getting COVID-19 shots daily.

“We’ve never done anything this big,” said Jeff Bispo, primary care assistant nurse manager overseeing the Matousek Clinic site. “The goal, the priority, is to get shots in arms. Whatever we can do to maximize that, it’s on the table.”

“Operation Big Shot” officially launched on Friday, Jan. 29, with the establishment of a vaccination clinic in Matousek. The site is supplementing outpatient vaccinations in the ZIHP clinic, which have been underway since Jan. 14.

As of the morning of Friday, Feb. 5, the Milwaukee VA had vaccinated more than 7,500 Veterans and 3,500 employees.

Since its launch, “Operation Big Shot” has been growing. It has the capacity to administer 440 shots a day, according to Pharmacy Manager Kim Bell, and by Thursday, Feb. 4, it was nearly at capacity.

Bispo said the Matousek site gave 301 shots on Wednesday, Feb. 3, while the ZIHP clinic is giving about 120 shots a day, according to clinic manager Stephanie Harlow.

zihp shot
Veteran Richard Griese receives his COVID-19 vaccination from Registered Nurse Kathy Bruno in the ZIHP Clinic at the Milwaukee VA Medical Center on Friday, Feb. 5.

“It’s a well-oiled machine,” Harlow said, noting that Veterans can get in and out in as little as 20 minutes (which includes the mandatory 15-minute monitoring period after the shot). “We’ve got it down pat.”

Bispo agreed.

“It’s going very well,” he said. “I’m hearing very positive things – very efficient. They are impressed with the flow, how easy it is to get in and how quick it is.”

Despite a snowstorm Thursday night followed by howling winds and arctic temperatures, clinics were humming Friday at both sites, with steady streams of Veterans.

Harlow said the Veterans are eager to get the shots.

“They are so excited and so appreciative,” she said. “That’s the fun part.”

Vaccine availability

Bell said Milwaukee VA currently receives about 975 doses of vaccine a week. The facility has an adequate supply to meet the demands of the clinics, she said.

Hospital officials say more vaccine could become available by March 1 as manufacturing ramps up and other providers, including Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca, seek to have their vaccines approved for use.

However, the situation changes almost daily as federal officials continue to tweak the vaccination rollout.

Matousek vaccination clinic

The Matousek clinic at the Milwaukee VA Medical Center bustles with activity on Friday, Feb. 5.

Who can get the shot?

Currently, Milwaukee VA is vaccinating enrolled Veterans age 65 and older as well as Veterans on dialysis, who are homeless or who have compelling medical conditions. VA is following CDC guidelines when it comes to prioritizing who get the vaccine and when.

Spouses of Veterans are not eligible for the vaccine under VA rules.

All vaccinations are by appointment only. Veterans are being contacted for appointments, or they can reach out to their health care team to have a request placed for contact. Or they call their clinic or contact their provider via MyHealtheVet.

In addition, Veterans coming to the hospital for another appointment can typically get a same-day appointment in Matousek for the COVID shot. Again, that needs to be arranged with the health care team they are coming to the hospital to see.

The Milwaukee VA is using the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, which requires two shots three weeks apart.

Where to go

Veterans getting their shots in Matousek should enter the hospital through the East Entrance. They will be directed down a hallway to the clinic.

Those getting shots at the ZIHP clinic should not enter the hospital. Instead, they should drive to the ZIHP clinic entrance located just west of the hospital in Building 70, which is clearly marked. Parking is available there.

To enter the ZIHP clinic, Veterans should use the marked door near Zippy, a giant, orange, dancing inflatable.

What to expect

Veterans getting the shot will need to complete a brief, one-page questionnaire upon arrival at their appointed clinic. Nurses and other aides will be available to help.

matousek shot
U.S. Marine Corps Veteran Darlene Ann Schulz gets her COVID-19 vaccination from LPN Janice Michalski in the Matousek Clinic on Friday, Feb. 5.

Veterans are also advised that the vaccine has been approved by the FDA for emergency use authorization, meaning it went through rigorous testing and trials but was also elevated for approval due to the pandemic.

The shot is quick and relatively painless. However, all recipients must be monitored for 15 minutes after the shot in case of allergic reaction.

Veterans will be given an information sheet to report any serious side effects after the shot. The side effects can vary greatly and are typically more pronounced after the second shot. The information sheet lays out what to expect and when a shot recipient should seek medical help.

Veterans also will get a CDC record card after the first shot. This card must be presented in order to get the second shot. This record card is valuable; it should be kept safe and presented during any medical visit.

More information about the vaccine, emergency use authorization and possible side effects can be found here and here.


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