At Hearing, Tester Presses VA Leadership on Delayed COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Plan for Veterans and Staff

After pressure from Ranking Member on VA’s plans to address the needs of veterans and staff, Department confirms it does not yet have an adequate amount of vaccines

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(U.S. Senate) – As the nation eagerly awaits the approval of a coronavirus vaccine, Ranking Member Jon Tester is pushing the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to release a comprehensive COVID-19 vaccine distribution strategy for veterans and staff.

As the largest, integrated health care system in the country, Tester pressed Veterans Health Administration Executive in Charge Dr. Richard Stone on the Department’s plans to roll-out a comprehensive vaccine strategy.

“I’m concerned that VA will be behind the curve,” said Ranking Member Tester. “Why do I say that? The CDC, the states, even IHS have already released public vaccine plans. To my knowledge, VA has yet to do so. And quite frankly, this is going be an undertaking that we have never seen before in this country—and the VA is a big part of that undertaking. So what’s stopping the VA from putting out a vaccine plan right now? Why can’t VA be more transparent about what the staff and the veterans need to expect?”

Dr. Stone answered that VA submitted an order for 73,000 initial vaccine doses that will be distributed at dozens of sites after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) confirms the vaccine’s safety and efficacy, and grants Pfizer emergency use authorization—with an additional 122,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine once authorized by the FDA. Dr. Stone also highlighted that VA’s current plan for distribution is with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Tester continued, “Can you handle the [vaccine] distribution? And is it an adequate amount for the largest health care system in the nation?”

“It is not an adequate amount,” Dr. Stone replied. “This will be a long process for us to reach all seven million veterans who we believe will want a vaccination from us as well as all 400,000 employees of the agency. We do anticipate weekly distribution, and it remains to be seen how robust that weekly distribution will be.”

Last month, Tester urged the Department to lay out its plan to allocate a coronavirus vaccine, reach veterans in rural and hotspot areas, combat vaccine misinformation, and strengthen cross-government and community partnerships. He also implored the VA to distribute the vaccine following guidance from public health experts and requested the Department’s strategy in allocating its initial doses among staff and vulnerable veterans to ensure those at highest risk receive the vaccine first.

Tester’s opening statement as prepared for delivery can be found HERE.