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Vaccines for veterans: Marquette VA clinic to provide flu shots on Friday

From left, Marine Corps veteran Jennifer Nylander has her blood drawn by Wendy Schuster, LPN, at the Marquette VA Community Based Outpatient Clinic. The Marquette VA Outpatient Clinic, located at the Peninsula Medical Center at 1414 W. Fair Ave., has scheduled a drive-up flu clinic for veterans enrolled in VA health care from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday. (Journal file photo)

MARQUETTE — As flu season gets into full swing, officials at the Oscar G. Johnson Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Iron Mountain are working to ensure veterans have access to flu vaccinations this year.

“While (the flu shot) is important every year, this year more so,” said Brad Nelson, chief of public affairs and veteran engagement at OGJVAMC. “COVID-19 is particularly detrimental to people with respiratory conditions, and a flu shot could help keep a person from getting influenza, which is respiratory in nature.”

OGJVAMC has been administering drive-up flu shot clinics at its seven VA outpatient clinics across the Upper Peninsula and northern Wisconsin this flu season.

The Marquette VA Outpatient Clinic, located at the Peninsula Medical Center at 1414 W. Fair Ave., has scheduled a drive-up flu clinic for veterans enrolled in VA health care this Friday. The clinic will run from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and no appointment is necessary.

Under normal circumstances, the flu shot clinics would be held indoors at each outpatient clinic. This year however, drive-up clinics are the best option with coronavirus restrictions still in place, organizers said.

A new option available to veterans this year is to receive their flu vaccination through a community-based urgent care clinic or retail pharmacy within the VA Community Care Network. This is made possible by the VA MISSION Act of 2018, “which strengthens the nationwide VA health care system by empowering veterans with more health care options,” officials said.

The VA Community Care Network was implemented on June 6, 2019, as part of the VA MISSION Act, which replaced the former Veterans Choice Program with the Veterans Community Care Program.

No appointment or referral is necessary to receive a flu shot for in-network community care options. Veterans can go to an in-network location and present a valid, government-issued ID, such as a Veteran Health ID card, Department of Defense ID card or state-issued driver’s license and receive their flu shot.

Veterans who wish to receive their vaccination at an urgent care location or retail pharmacy must be enrolled in VA health care, and those choosing an urgent care location must have received care from a VA or in-network community provider in the last 24 months.

“It’s these community providers who have signed up to be a part of the VA network of providers,” Nelson said. “They’re not VA employees and not VA facilities, and no appointment or referral is needed. They’re just community-based providers in urgent care or retail pharmacy.”

A list of in-network community care locations can be found by clicking the “Find a VA Location” link at www.va.gov.

The VA Community Care Network has over 60,000 urgent care locations and retail pharmacies nationwide.

Veterans who are enrolled in the VA health care system but received their flu shot through another provider are urged to contact their VA primary care clinic to report that information.

For veterans who may not be enrolled in VA health care, Nelson encourages them to reach out and apply.

“We don’t provide the flu shot for veterans who aren’t enrolled,” he said. “They could enroll however, and find out if they’re eligible for VA care. We really do provide great care, and you don’t have to give up your other health insurance from another provider. Otherwise, they can use their own insurance and there are several community flu shot clinics they can participate in. Enrolled or not, everyone is encouraged to get their flu shot.”

Ann Mattson, infection control nurse at the OGJVAMC, said getting vaccinated is the best way to prevent against respiratory diseases.

“The best way to protect against the flu and its potentially serious complications is with a flu shot vaccine,” she said. “Getting vaccinated yourself may also protect people around you, including those who are more vulnerable to serious flu illness, like babies and young children, older people and people with certain chronic health conditions.”

For more information on flu prevention and vaccinations, veterans can visit www.prevention.va.gov/flu. Flu prevention guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention can also be viewed at www.cdc.gov.

For more information on the Oscar G. Johnson Veterans Affairs Medical Center, visit www.ironmountain.va.gov or call 906-774-3300.

To reach the Marquette VA Outpatient Clinic, call 906-226-4618.

For general information on the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, visit www.va.gov.

Ryan Spitza can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248. His email address is rspitza@miningjournal.net.

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