Veterans and the COVID-19 Vaccine

Posted by Reeve Staff in Daily Dose on June 09, 2021 # COVID-19, Military / Veterans

COVID-19 VaccineSince the start of the pandemic, over 592,000 people in the U.S—including more than 12,000 patients of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)– have died from complications caused by the coronavirus. But as vaccination availability and distribution accelerated this spring, deaths have steadily declined across the country.

The VA has administered more than six million doses of the coronavirus vaccine, fully vaccinating more than 2.6 million veterans to date. But, among veterans and the general population, there remain many unvaccinated individuals who continue to face serious health risks from the coronavirus.

The Reeve Foundation recently conducted a Q&A with clinicians at the VA's Spinal Cord Injuries and Disorders System of Care about the benefits of the vaccine, and specific risks the coronavirus poses for the roughly 42,000 veterans living with spinal cord injuries.

  • Do veterans living with spinal cord injuries face heightened risks if infected with the coronavirus?

That is unknown currently, but in the interest of safety, the VA is encouraging all veterans, and everyone, to get vaccinated. Data for veterans enrolled in VA health care with spinal cord injuries and disorders (SCI/D) indicate higher mortality for those with SCI/D infected by coronavirus.

  • What are some comorbidities that can lead to more severe cases and possible hospitalization for veterans with SCI?

We cannot say with certainty. People with SCI/D that develop respiratory diseases (such as influenza and pneumonia) have more complications and have higher mortality than the general population. Many people with SCI/D have impaired neurologic function that affects the respiratory system (for example, impaired coughing), which leads to more severe cases and complications.

  • To date, about 168 million people in the U.S have received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine - but large numbers of the population remain hesitant. What would you say to veterans with spinal cord injuries who worry about side effects, or are generally unsure about receiving the vaccine?

The VA has led the fight against COVID-19 and administered the vaccine across many different populations with little to no side effects. Veterans with SCI/D are encouraged to get the coronavirus vaccine. The VA's COVID-19 educational efforts focus on the large body of evidence indicating the vaccine is well-tolerated and serious side effects are uncommon.

  • Many people living with spinal cord injuries experience feelings of isolation and depression; the pandemic has only exacerbated these challenges. What advice do you have for veterans who are struggling after a difficult year?

Some degree of anxiety, depressed mood, and feelings of isolation, regardless of underlying diseases or disabilities, has been common during the coronavirus pandemic. Over the past year, there have been numerous efforts by VA SCI/D teams across the nation to keep in touch with enrolled veterans with SCI/D. We have engaged with them, their families, and their caregivers through social media - including SCI/D telehealth appointments and Zoom calls. We encourage enrolled veterans with persistent symptoms of mental health conditions to seek the support of a SCI/D psychologist and/or VA mental health provider.

The Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation offers a Military & Veterans Program (MVP) for veterans and service members. For more information, please go to: www.ChristopherReeve.org/MVP or call 866-962-8387 to speak to an Information Specialist.

This project was supported, in part, by grant number 90PRRC0002, from the U.S. Administration for Community Living, Department of Health and Human Services, Washington, D.C. 20201. Grantees undertaking projects under government sponsorship are encouraged to express freely their findings and conclusions. Points of view or opinions do not, therefore, necessarily represent official Administration for Community Living policy.