Veterans and COVID-19 vaccines

Three Jewish war veterans finally get the shot

If Jack Tweyman had been a resident of Toronto’s Sunnybrook Veterans Centre, the Toronto veteran of the Second World War would have likely been vaccinated against COVID-19 months ago. But Tweyman, 101, wasn’t eligible until now because he is still well enough to live independently in the same North York apartment he shared with his late wife. During the pandemic, the retired taxi driver has been relying on family and a caregiver to survive isolation safely.

After the slow rollout of Ontario’s COVID-19 vaccination system, a relieved Tweyman received his first dose of the vaccine on Saturday morning.

Canadian veteran receives COVID-19 vaccine
Toronto veteran Jack Tweyman, 101, received his COVID-19 vaccine Saturday at Humber River Hospital. His son Ian Tweyman looks on. (Photo courtesy Ian Tweyman).

“It was so smooth and painless. Altogether 30 minutes from arrival we were out,” said Ian Tweyman, his son, who accompanied Jack for the jab.

Jack Tweyman is one of the estimated 30,000 Canadian Second World War veterans who are still alive, down from the 1.1 million men and women who served from 1939-1945. Their average age is 94 and older.

Tweyman was born in 1919, and grew up in a large immigrant Jewish family in Toronto. He was a twin, and both he and his brother Albert were called up in April 1941. Jack served the war in Canada, posted to Nova Scotia’s Strait of Canso area with an anti-aircraft battery.

Albert landed in France a month after D-Day. He was killed in action in August 1944, probably during Operation Totalize.

Canadian soldier in WW2
Jack Tweyman (right) with friends while on leave during the Second World War. (Courtesy Jack Tweyman).

Tweyman’s son Ian had been beyond frustrated with the long and potentially deadly wait time for the province’s vaccine program to include relatively healthy veterans like his father.

“He is chomping at the bit to get out. We are very careful with him. If I let him he would be at the mall,” Ian said.

Forgotten seniors at home

It was a similar story with Canadian army veteran Norman Cash, also 101, who served in France, Belgium, Holland and Germany during the Second World War. Cash used to be one of the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 256’s more active poppy sellers when he was younger. He has also been the subject of a touching Remembrance Day television commercial, and has appeared at many schools speaking about his war experiences.

Cash appeared on Global News Toronto, questioning why seniors like him who live at home were not included in Ontario’s Phase 1 vaccine injections. Health care workers, residents of long term care homes and retirement homes were given priority in that phase.

“The government has forgotten about the people at home, the seniors at home,” Cash told Global News on Feb. 24. “I don’t think that’s fair.”

Norm Cash on Global News

His daughter, Cheryl Cash Iacovetta, was also impatient with the long wait for vaccine, and the resulting extended isolation for the Canadian war hero.

“I just want to hug him,” she told Global.

Cash received his vaccine Thursday March 12 at North York General Hospital, according to his daughter.

“He said he’s feeling well after the first shot, it didn’t even hurt his arm,” she said.

Canada’s oldest veteran

Perhaps Canada’s oldest living veteran, Reuben Sinclair, 109, received his COVID-vaccine last Friday, according to his friend Eric Brunt. The retired businessman also lives independently in his Richmond, B.C. home.

(Courtesy Eric Brunt)

Sinclair was born in Lipton, Saskatchewan in 1911, in a Jewish farming colony. He joined the Royal Canadian Air Force, and served for three years across the country, including at at the air station in North Battleford, Sask. He taught pilots how to take off and land at night. “Rube” also installed top-secret radar gear.

The Jewish Independent newspaper in Vancouver recently published a profile story about Sinclair, with a focus on his long record of philanthropic efforts in Los Angeles and more recently the Vancouver area.

Thanked for service

When the staff at the Humber River Hospital COVID-19 vaccine clinic learned about Jack Tweyman’s military record, it made his reception there even nicer.

“The nurse who gave him his vaccine was warm and chatty and impressed with his age even though she saw someone 103 two days before,” recalled Ian Tweyman.  “She asked him lots of questions and I told her he was a veteran and she told us ‘So was her father and he passed away two years ago’ and thanked him for his service.”

Tweyman’s father received the Pfizer vaccine, and felt fine afterwords, according to Ian.

Covid vaccine clinic Toronto
Jack Tweyman at the Humber River Hospital COVID-19 vaccine clinic Sat. March 13, 2021. (Ian Tweyman photo)

“No symptoms at all for my father, not even a sore arm,” he reported.

At the clinic, Ian and his wife, who are Jack’s caregivers, were originally told they were not eligible for vaccines yet, because they are under 80. But the “angel” of a nurse who had jabbed Jack in the morning, called the Tweymans late that same Saturday afternoon, Ian said. There was extra vaccine serum left over at Humber’s clinic, and could they return quickly to get their shots?

Ian Tweyman is doubly grateful now. They are all set to return with Jack for their second doses, in 16 weeks.

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