Bakersfield’s John Workman didn’t even flinch when the needle entered his shoulder and the vaccine entered his body on Thursday morning.
Five minutes later, as the U.S. Army Gulf War veteran relaxed in the post-vaccination observation room at the VA Ambulance in Bakersfield, he said he was relieved to be able to join millions of other Americans in the fight against coronavirus that has killed nearly half a million people in the United States last year.
“I have grandchildren with me, 9- and 10-year-old boys,” he said. “I feel very relieved. That took away a lot of my fear.”
The U.S. Department of Veteran’s Health System in the greater Los Angeles area has been vaccinating approved veterinarians in Bakersfield for more than a month. On Thursday, they invited The Californian to document the effort and help spread it.
Vaccinations at the clinic on Westwind Drive are offered to enrolled healthcare-eligible veterans in groups that include people 65 and older, health professionals, key workers, and various categories of at risk patients.
“It is very important to serve veterans where they are, not where we are,” said Rob Merchant, executive director of home care for the VA health system in Los Angeles.
The system spans five counties and more than 87,000 veterans, but the local effort is part of two major veterinary vaccination efforts in Bakersfield and Santa Maria.
About 78 were expected to be vaccinated on Thursday, but the clinic is growing and plans to vaccinate more than 300 on Tuesday and another 300 on March 16, Merchant said.
“Not every veteran is eligible,” he said.
Bakersfield, 81-year-old Victor Mungary received his second injection of the Pfizer vaccine Thursday. The retired Cal State Bakersfield employee served 10 years in the US Air Force and a dozen more in the Navy Reserve.
He seemed to be enjoying himself on Thursday. When Merchant, also a Navy veteran, asked Mungary what he was doing in the Navy, Mungary quipped, “Whatever I could get away with.”
Raysa Daza, a nurse, worked in the observation room Thursday to make sure no patient had a negative reaction to the vaccine.
“In an emergency, we are trained to respond,” she said.
She was also assigned to keep an eye on each dose.
“It is very important that every vaccine dose is given,” she said.
This is because the approximately six doses after opening the vial only take six hours before it needs to be administered.
It’s about protecting the county’s veterans, she said. And to work to make life normal again at some point.
“We’re getting everyone vaccinated,” said Daza, “to keep Kern County open.”
Reporter Steven Mayer can be reached at 661-395-7353. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @semayerTBC.