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About 200 veterans got poked in the arm at the Gallatin County Fairgrounds on Friday with a serum that’s meant to protect them from the coronavirus as part of the Montana Veterans Affairs’ effort to vaccinate veterans.

By noon, Holly Mitchell, Bozeman’s VA clinic charge nurse, said that 130 doses of the vaccine were in the arms of veterans. She said that the clinic administered shots to older veterans first and that it was a joy to listen to some of their stories.

“Everyone is so blessed to be here and to be a part of the first go around for the VA here,” Mitchell said. “It’s just been an honor, and on both sides. (The veterans) are just so thankful.”

A pharmacist, a handful of nurses and the chief of staff from the VA medical center at Fort Harrison in Helena all drove down to help out. Nurses wearing face masks and protective face shields checked veterans in, administered the shots and escorted them to a room where they could rest afterward.

The VA will continue to hold vaccination events across the state to immunize willing enrolled veterans, as doses become available. VA staff will call each veteran to schedule an appointment starting with those 75 and older and any veteran vulnerable to the disease.

The VA will then call to schedule an appointment to administer the second dose of the vaccine, 28 days later.

Veterans not enrolled in VHA health care are encouraged to call 406-447-7350 to determine their eligibility as soon as possible.

Pam Nichols, Bozeman’s VA clinic manager, said that the VA found out it was getting 200 doses of the vaccine a week ago. With Monday being Martin Luther King Jr. Day, she said, VA staff had about three days to set appointments and find a site big enough to accommodate the group of veterans.

“Our local clinic is just too small, so it wouldn’t be safe,” Nichols said. “We wouldn’t have room to social distance for this number of people.”

Nichols and Mitchell were grateful for the coordination with the Gallatin City-County Health Department and the fairgrounds to reserve the space in such a short amount of time.

Nurses at Bozeman’s clinic reached out and scheduled appointments from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. for the veterans who showed up on Friday. However, Nichols said, about three people had formed a line outside the site at 7:30 a.m., eager to get the shot.

Veterans were still coming in shortly after noon.

Wayne Hill, 97, wore a black hat that showed he was a World War II veteran and said he didn’t notice the nurse poke him when it was his turn. Hill, who spent 19 months in Europe during the war doing bomb disposal, said he got a call from the clinic asking if he wanted to get vaccinated.

“I said, ‘you bet,’ so here I am,” he said.

Otsie Stowell, who served as an Army physician’s assistant, described the poke as a “piece of cake.”

Stowell, who wore a facemask with the grinch’s green grin on it, said he called the nurse who gave him the shot on Thursday about another appointment and asked when he could get the vaccine.

“She said, ‘what are you doing tomorrow?’” Stowell said.

He said he was happy to get the vaccine. Stowell said he hopes more people get the shot and that he will start looking for a vaccine for his wife.

“Let’s get 170 million in here so we could actually knock this thing down,” he said.

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Freddy Monares can be reached at fmonares@dailychronicle.com or at 406-582-2630.