(U.S. Senate) – Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jon Tester today pressed witnesses at a hearing on the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) COVID-19 vaccine rollout, and efforts to combat vaccine hesitancy and reach more veterans and staff in Montana. During the hearing, VA confirmed that recent Tester efforts secured an increase of 600,000 additional doses from the Biden Administration for veterans.
Tester has been pushing for an increase in vaccines for veterans, and at today’s hearing pressed Acting Under Secretary for Health Dr. Richard Stone on the Department’s vaccination program. Dr. Stone confirmed that VA’s allotment of Federal vaccines will more than double for next week.
“As I understand it, VA currently receives 125,000 vaccine doses per week from the federal government and VA is getting them administered within a week,” said Chairman Tester. “Dr. Stone, you said that VA has the capacity to administer 300,000 to 600,000 doses per week. I realize this is contingent on the national supply, but what is your ideal weekly allocation of doses?”
“Between 300,000 and 600,000 doses a week,” replied Dr. Stone. “I'm quite pleased sir that we just received a call before we came over here that we will next week receive almost 600,000 doses.”
“That’s good news, that’s really good!” Tester said.
At the hearing, Tester also highlighted VA’s success in flying vaccines into highly rural areas like Havre, Kalispell, Glendive, and others cities across Montana. He urged VA officials to continue these efforts, and to expand vaccination services to more rural veterans across the country, including through mobile medical units.
Chairman Tester has been working tirelessly to increase VA’s allotment of vaccines for veterans and staff—especially those in rural and underserved communities. Yesterday, he joined Ranking Member Jerry Moran in holding a productive meeting with top officials from the Biden Administration’s COVID-19 Response Team in charge of the development, manufacture and distribution of vaccines. At the meeting, Tester commended VA on its proven ability to quickly deliver vaccines and highlighted the critical need for the Administration to go above and beyond its current allotment.
Last week, the Senators also led a bipartisan push to add VA to the Defense Production Act Committee (DPAC) which advises the President on the most effective use of the Defense Production Act (DPA). Invoking the DPA gives the President broad authorities to direct domestic manufacturing industries to prioritize government orders and make products the nation needs in a time of crisis.
Tester’s opening statement as prepared for delivery can be found HERE.