As the number of coronavirus cases in the Department of Veterans Affairs is headed down, the number of coronavirus vaccine doses in the system is poised to increase sharply.
On Thursday, the department reported a three-month low in active coronavirus cases among patients, at just under 8,500. The active case total has declined steadily over the last three weeks and is down 58 percent in the last month.
The news on case counts came the same day VA officials announced that the Department of Health and Human Services is providing 200,000 additional doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine in addition to the 125,000 doses they provide each week.
Denis McDonough was sworn in as the new VA Secretary on Tuesday.
“VA has worked diligently to offer and administer the COVID-19 vaccine as quickly as possible to veterans who receive care at VA,” said acting VA Under Secretary for Health Richard Stone. ”The additional doses will help us to continue reaching our veterans at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19 during this period of limited supply.”
Officials said the extra doses will not accelerate its vaccination schedule, but will help meet the immediate need facing the department.
VA has administered nearly 1.5 million doses of the coronavirus vaccine in the last two months, with about 400,000 medical employees and high-risk veterans already completing the two-shot regimen.
In recent weeks, some VA medical centers have begun the second phase of vaccine distribution, administering doses to veterans older than 75 and other frontline workers such as police officers and food service workers. Department leaders have said decisions on when to shift to that second phase depend on local availability and demand.
During a House Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing on Thursday, Chairman Mark Takano, D-Calif., said that VA leaders are distributing the vaccine nearly as quickly as it arrives, with a backup inventory of only about a day and a half across the system.
Stone has warned it will likely take months to fill the expected demand of vaccines for about 7 million individuals, but has said the department’s stated goal is to eventually make the vaccine available to any veteran or staffer who requests it.
In remarks before the National Institutes of Health on Thursday, President Joe Biden said he expects to have enough vaccine doses available for every adult in America by the end of July.
About $17 billion of the nearly $2 trillion package would go to bolster programs at the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Despite the positive news, deaths among VA patients connected to the virus continue to mount. The department reported 9,812 deaths as of Thursday evening, up about 430 in the last week and nearly 1,000 in the last week alone. The number of employee deaths rose to 128 on Thursday.
Nearly 30 VA patients a day have died from virus-related issues since last March. Nearly 60 percent of all deaths in the department have come since Nov. 1.
More information on the coronavirus vaccine is available at the department’s web site.