SALINAS – The first doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine will be distributed to eligible Central Coast veterans at the Major General William H. Gourley VA-DoD Outpatient Clinic in Marina with the hope that as more vaccine becomes available, the clinic can continue to be a distribution point.
The COVID-19 vaccination clinic at the Gourley outpatient facility in Marina starts at 9 a.m. Saturday and requires an appointment that can be obtained by calling 650-496-2535. As of Thursday morning, 130 slots remained to be filled for 600 first-dose vaccinations. The VA Palo Alto will provide a corresponding allocation of Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to administer the second doses.
At a virtual press conference Thursday, Rep. Jimmy Panetta, D-Carmel Valley, was joined by Monterey County District 4 Supervisor and Chair Wendy Root Askew, Monterey County Veterans Services Officer Jason Cameron, and Department of Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Interim Deputy Director Megan O’Connor to speak about the allocation of Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to the Gourley Outpatient Clinic and vaccine distribution efforts for Central Coast veterans.
Now that COVID-19 vaccines were successfully advocated for, and allocated to, the Gourley Clinic for distribution through the efforts of local leaders, Rep. Panetta said it provides an opportunity to highlight an example of government responding to and working for local constituents on an important issue.
But to see this become an ongoing effort, more vaccine must become available.
“We’re ready and able if we get future distributions, but distributions are on a week-to-week basis,” said VA Palo Alto interim Deputy Director, O’Connor. “So unfortunately that’s how (Centers for Disease Control) is pushing out distribution. So until we know more into the future, all I know is this one distribution.”
Supervisor Askew added that the Board of Supervisors “will be advocating tenaciously and incessantly for ongoing allocation to Marina for the rest of our veteran population.”
Rep. Panetta sent a letter last week to the leadership of the Department of Veterans Affairs, Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, calling on the agencies to expand COVID-19 vaccine dose allocations to VA clinics and facilities outside of major population centers. The request was to significantly increase vaccine access and reduce travel time for veterans.
Now that a COVID-19 vaccination clinic is scheduled for this week in Marina, County Veterans Services Officer Jason Cameron said all involved “need to make sure we get the word out to the veteran population. We need to work together to ensure that we get the veterans to the (Marina) clinic.”
Cameron said many veterans have accessibility and transportation issues that can be overcome by calling the Monterey County Military and Veterans Affairs Office at 831-647-7613.
He also pointed out the importance of signing up for VA benefits including health care.
“These vaccines are for veterans who are currently enrolled in VA Healthcare so if you’re not enrolled in health care, contact my office,” said Cameron. “That’s what we do. We are the link, that conduit between you and the VA.”
Of the estimated 17,500 veterans in Monterey County, about 65% have not connected to the VA for medical or other benefits.
Veterans are encouraged to sign up for VA Healthcare and other benefits not only to gain access to services but because the VA allotment of vaccine is not counted against the allotment received by Monterey County.
“That allows us to reach even more residents with the COVID-19 vaccine and that’s a really big deal,” said Askew.
The outpatient clinic in Marina is part of the greater VA Palo Alto Healthcare System of which there are about 67,000 veterans enrolled. The VA Palo Alto consists of three inpatient and seven outpatient clinics.
O’Connor said that at this point, the VA Palo Alto has given 6,669 first doses to veterans and 778-second doses.
The VA Palo Alto has been a Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine distribution site which requires ultra-cold freezers for storing the serum.
At the beginning of February, VA Palo Alto received notice it would be getting Moderna COVID-19 vaccine allocations that do not require ultra-cold storage, and 600 doses were allotted to the Marina clinic.
O’Connor said the Gourley Outpatient Clinic would not be getting an ultra-cold freezer due to infrastructure requirements.
As more vaccine becomes available through Moderna, and possibly Johnson and Johnson, which also does not require ultra-cold storage, additional clinics at the Gourley clinic are a possibility.
Johnson and Johnson submitted its application to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in early February for an Emergency Use Authorization and awaits approval which would add another source for a COVID-19 vaccine.
“I am hopeful we will get to 65 (and older) in the very near future,” said O’Connor.
Contributed by local news sources