Veterans living at a long-term care facility in Vancouver are among the first in the Portland metro area to receive the coronavirus vaccine.

VANCOUVER, Wash. — Some veterans and their caretakers are a step closer to COVID-19 immunity.

On Thursday, they received the first dose of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine.

Jeanie Backus is the nurse who administered the shots to the first three veterans at VA Portland Health Care System’s Community Living Center (CLC) in Vancouver.

Backus also got vaccinated, as both staff and veterans work to keep each other healthy.

“I would never want to be able to get a patient sick because I didn’t do it, so that’s why I’m doing it,” Backus said.

John Stephens was the first veteran to get vaccinated Thursday morning.

“Couldn’t feel it,” Stephens said. “If you get a chance to take it, take it.”

The WWII veteran was met with applause after his vaccination.

He acknowledged the vaccine is simply a first step in waiting out the pandemic, urging people to continue precautions.

“Follow the rules. Stay apart. Wear your mask. And we’ll get this stuff over,” Stephens said.

Vietnam-era veteran James Curry expressed hope his family could get vaccinated soon, too.

“Because I don’t want to see them get the disease,” Curry said.

VA staff monitored patients for 15 minutes after vaccinations to ensure they did not have an allergic reaction.

“So far no problems at all,” Backus said.

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Dr. Sandhya Srikantom, medical director at the CLC, helped the center get through a recent COVID-19 outbreak.

She said the vaccine represents hope.

“This is a very historic day for us,” Srikantom said. “This is potentially the beginning to the end of the pandemic.”

Nursing director Karen Martin agreed, saying staff and residents are looking ahead to the future.

“They have built up incredible resiliency throughout this,” Martin said.

Earlier in the week, clinical pharmacist technicians also prepared 65 doses of the Pfizer vaccine for Portland VA staff.

The VA explained the vaccine is taken out of the freezer and thawed for about 30 minutes. Technicians add saline solution to make five doses per vial. Those doses must be used within 6 hours after preparation. The freezer can only be opened for up to three minutes two times every 24 hours to maintain temperature.  

To staff, the hours of extra planning and work are meaningful.

“It feels like family,” Backus said.

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