If you’re one of the more than 1 million Tricare for Life beneficiaries who are age 75 and older, you’re now eligible for the COVID-19 vaccination.
Defense and Military Health System officials are making it available, but there’s a caveat. Supplies of the vaccine vary by location. Defense Health Agency officials are working on options to help military hospitals and clinics to contact those who are 75 and older to let them know when the vaccination becomes available for them.
Meanwhile, officials advise beneficiaries to check their military hospital or clinic’s website, social media, and watch for information in the news media. Included in the first priority were health care personnel and seniors and staff in long-term care facilities, to include the Armed Forces Retirement Home.
Some states are opening up the vaccination eligibility to those who are 65 and older, and others with underlying medical conditions.
Many service members, retirees and families are watching the COVID-19 vaccination process and wondering when their turn will come.
That depends on your location and your personal situation. Officials are pumping more vaccine doses through the distribution channels for both military and civilian locations, and shots are going first to those who are more vulnerable. Fewer active duty family members are eligible at first because they are generally younger with less underlying health conditions. But many military retirees and spouses are in the group that will receive vaccinations in a higher priority group because of their age and underlying conditions, especially retirees in Tricare for Life, for Medicare-eligible beneficiaries age 65 and older.
Everyone should have a working knowledge of how their area is handling the vaccinations, where their military treatment facility stands in working through their vaccination phases, and what their options will be in getting the vaccine in the local civilian community.
For example, in Fairfax County, Va., people ages 75 and older were eligible to sign up for a vaccination in civilian settings. The civilian authorities are ahead of Fort Belvoir Community Hospital in moving down the priority list. According to the hospital’s Facebook page as of this writing, Fort Belvoir was in phase 1B.1 of vaccinations, which includes those in “critical national capabilities.” Meanwhile, Fairfax County was set to begin expanding eligibility for the shots to those ages 65 and older on Jan. 18. That means residents can register for their shot, but it doesn’t mean it will be immediately available.
Military treatment facilities are in various stages of receiving the vaccination doses and giving the shots to their staff members who are providing direct medical care. Some started providing it to their medical staff this week. Others receiving the vaccine in this first phase are emergency services and public safety personnel. As more doses become available, MTFs will go to the next phase of eligible beneficiaries.
But for family members, retirees and others who are becoming eligible now or later, how does it work?
According to the Tricare.mil website, you’ll eventually be able to get the first shot at:
*Your local military hospital or clinic.
*Your civilian provider.
*Tricare network pharmacies If you’re in the Tricare Prime plan, you may have to get a referral from your primary care manager.
*Tricare non-network providers or TRICARE non-network pharmacies. If you choose this option, you may have to pay a cost-share, based on your Tricare plan. You may have to pay out of pocket and file a claim for reimbursement. While the taxpayer-funded vaccines are provided free, providers will be able to charge an administration fee for giving the shots, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
According to the Facebook page of Womack Army Medical Center at Fort Bragg, N.C., medical providers are still in the first phase of the vaccinations, administering the vaccine to healthcare providers, first responders, and soldiers about to deploy outside the continental United States. Officials are updating their information as they move to other phases, and as they move into the next phases of high-risk beneficiaries, they will contact these beneficiaries through their messaging systems.
But Womack medical officials also have been pushing out information on social media about vaccination availability in the local community, for example, to those age 75 and above. They’ve also been pushing out new information about some vaccination clinics in the local area open to those who are age 65 and above.
To find out more about the availability of the vaccinations in your civilian community, visit the CDC’s directory of state health departments. Scroll to the middle of the page to “What you can do right now.” If the vaccination information isn’t easy to find on your state’s health department website, do a web search for “where do I get a COVID vaccination in (your state).”
Some states have online signups for those eligible to register for the vaccination.
Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.