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Written by Dr. Joyce Grissom, HNFS Chief Medical Officer
I have never been happier to turn a page on an outgoing year and welcome in a new one. In 2021, masks, handwashing and social distancing will remain as important as ever. However, much of the focus will be on distributing the weapons against the COVID-19 virus that our scientists have provided. With the winter holidays behind us, new and devastating surges of COVID-19 have threatened health care of all kinds in states like California and Arizona. New and potentially more infectious genetic variants of the COVID-19 virus are emerging and expected. Viruses mutate. There is no evidence these variants won’t be responsive to currently available vaccines and therapeutics.
For TRICARE beneficiaries, there are two major paths to vaccination: 1) in a military hospital or clinic near you or 2) through private sector care in your local community. The vaccination is being provided at no cost by the U.S. government. Information about TRICARE coverage of COVID-19 vaccines can be found at www.tricare.mil/COVIDVaccine.
States and localities are implementing Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations for phased deployment of vaccine to get it to those at greatest risk first. Some states are scheduling mass vaccination programs in venues able to support the vaccination of tens of thousands of people each day, such as in parking lots or sports arenas. Personally, I think we should put doctors and nurses on ice cream trucks and roll through those last-mile, hard-to-reach neighborhoods. When you hear the ice cream truck music, that will be the signal to go out in a socially-distanced way with all your neighbors and get your vaccine. While we are not ready to displace the Good Humor Man just yet, major efforts are underway to make vaccinations widely available. Your local health department and the CDC are good resources that can help you find where vaccinations are taking place in your community. Many websites are now available to give you a general idea of where you stand in the vaccination line. I like this one: https://dig.abclocal.go.com/ccg/interactives/vaccine-calculator/index.html. This site asks a series of questions about your state, county, age, medical conditions, and occupation. Within moments, you’ll be provided with an idea of how many people are ahead of you based on the current vaccination plan posted in your state and county.
For DoD-eligible beneficiaries, including TRICARE for Life beneficiaries, the DoD has launched a program to provide COVID-19 vaccines to service members, retirees, and their families. Learn more about the first phases of DoD COVID-19 vaccine distribution. Vaccinations provided by local military hospital or clinic will need to be scheduled. Visit your military hospital's website, news media, or social media to stay informed about vaccine updates.
Find a strategy that allows you to compare where you are in line in your community verses where you are in line in your local military hospital or clinic. Take the earliest slot if you can. When you get your vaccine, keep your paperwork. If you have a tablet or smartphone, take a picture of it. Your paperwork should indicate which vaccine you received and when to return for your second vaccination, if you have received a two-dose vaccine. We are likely to see additional vaccines gain FDA Emergency Use Approval and some of these may be single dose vaccines. As we move in the direction of normality, it may be helpful to be able to demonstrate your vaccination status when traveling or participating in certain activities. Look for the roll-out of applications that may provide you electronically with evidence of vaccination as a kind of “health passport.” Until then, your paperwork provided at the time of vaccination should suffice. Know where it is, like your driver’s license or your CAC card.
After the Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1917 and 1918, we regained our health, and our sense of normality and we will this time. What this experience has taught me is how small the world really is and how much we are dependent on one another’s good judgement and participation in public health measures. Hopefully this awareness will persist long after the COVID-19 surges threatening our health systems come to an end. Here’s to good health and good citizenship in 2021. See you at the vaccination center. I’ll bring the ice cream.