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Veterans at State Home now getting vaccinations

The Mississippi State Veterans Home in Oxford was hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic last year, but there is a light forming at the end of the tunnel for its residents.

On Wednesday, the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine were administered to the residents, those who chose to receive it. After being shutout from family and friends, and the outside world for most of the past 10 months, it was a welcome relief to many.

“Fortunate,” said William Ginn after being one of the receiving the shot. “Hopefully, (now) I won’t die from (COVID-19).”

Ginn, who served in the US Air Force during the Vietnam War, was one of three veterans who were first in line to receive their first dose of the Pfizer vaccine.

Residents who received their vaccination on Wednesday will get their second dose in three weeks to complete the two-dose process.

Vernard Murchison, a veteran of the Korean War who served in the US Army, had poignant words after receiving his vaccine regarding moving forward in the battle against COVID-19.

“I hope everyone will go ahead and take it when it becomes available to them,” Murchison said. “It’s going to take a long time to get back to where we were. We can do it. You can make a lot of mistakes down the road, and perhaps you can correct those mistakes. But you can only make one mistake on your life. So, I would suggest to everybody to take the vaccine when it becomes available.

Unfortunately, death was something the veterans home experienced throughout last year. The home had three outbreaks throughout 2020, including one in July that lasted for six weeks and resulted in 26 deaths.

All long-term care facilities, including the four state-run veterans homes, were locked down in mid-March when the pandemic hit Mississippi. Outside visitors, including family members, have not been allowed to see their loved ones for 10 months.

“Obviously, the veterans are not the ones leaving the homes,” said Ray Coleman, director of communications for the Mississippi Veterans Affairs office. “So, (COVID-19) is obviously being brought in. You have to vigorously test your staff, whether that be nursing staff, housekeeping staff, food vendors. Each home may have 150 employees and all it takes is one. …We’ve seen that in not just in our veterans homes and not just in Oxford, but the other three, and nationwide as well. We’ve gotten better along the way but unfortunately we’ve seen a lot of veterans pass away from this pandemic.”

Coleman said the VA office is in planning stages of what they will call family reunions, where they will reopen the homes for families to be reunited, in person, with their loved ones. The homes are asked to have plans in place for those reunions within the next couple of months.

Any resident who decided to not get the vaccine this week, will be able to get their first dose in three weeks when CVS physicians return to administer second doses.

“We’re not closing the door on folks,” Coleman said.