The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs Pacific Island Healthcare System received the Moderna vaccine for COVID-19 this week and began inoculations on Wednesday.

The first recipients of the vaccine will be frontline VA healthcare workers and veterans in long-term care facilities.

“Receiving and providing this vaccine to our community of staff and veterans is our priority. As vaccine supplies increase, our ultimate goal is to offer COVID-19 vaccination to all veterans and employees who want to be vaccinated on Oahu and the neighbor islands,” VAPIHCS director Dr. Adam Robinson said in a press release.

Lone truck travels on coral roads built in the 1940s on Tinian. 28 aug 2016
A truck drives down a country road on the island of Tinian in the American Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. The VA’s Pacific Island Healthcare System is working to distribute the Moderna vaccine to staff and veterans on islands spread across 2.6 million square miles of ocean. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The VA began vaccinating staff and veterans on the mainland with the Pfizer vaccine on Dec. 14. But the VAPIHC wasn’t selected to receive the Pfizer vaccine, which has to be transported and stored in ultra cold storage that isn’t currently available in many of the places where the system’s patients live.

The VA has few dedicated facilities in the Pacific and relies on partnerships with other hospitals and clinics. On Oahu it shares facilities with Tripler Army Medical Center, which received the Pfizer vaccine last week for active duty military personnel and contracted civilians.

VAPIHC’s responsibilities reach much further than Hawaii. It is responsible for all U.S. military veterans living in American Samoa, Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

A study of 2003 recruiting military recruiting data found Pacific Islanders were over-represented in the U.S. Army by 249% proportionally to other ethnic groups. Pacific Islanders were also over-represented in rates of those killed and injured in Iraq. American Samoans continue to enlist above the national average.

“For our Veterans in American Samoa, Guam and Saipan, VAPIHCS is working closely with the Department of Health at each site to ensure staff and Veterans have access to the vaccine as it becomes available,” said the press release. “Vaccinations have begun in these three regions for VA staff and will begin soon for Veterans at each site.”

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