A COVID-19 vaccine could be ready for distribution to local first responders as soon as December.
A COVID-19 vaccine could be ready for distribution as soon as Friday. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

The vaccine is almost here.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is set to consider the Pfizer vaccine, already being administered in Great Britain, for emergency approval on Thursday, and domestic distribution is expected to begin as early as 24 hours later. Nearly a dozen local providers are on the list to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in its first week, and they’ll immunize nearly 30,000 local health care workers on the front lines of the pandemic.

The vaccine is expected to be available to the general public sometime after April of next year, but it was revealed recently that the White House declined to purchase an allotment of vaccines that could delay by several months the quest to inoculate enough Americans to establish herd immunity.

But a shot in the arm for San Antonio’s corps of frontline health care workers should gird the medical community for a coming battle with the virus likely to be stronger than the summer COVID-19 surge.

And it comes as health care systems around the state and nation face capacity issues already. In New Mexico, health care providers are having to make the unthinkable call to ration care for patients most likely to survive the disease.

Fortunately, hospitalizations statewide are down from last week, but medical facilities throughout West Texas – Lubbock and El Paso, but even more acutely in rural places such as Alpine – are slammed.

The state of Texas has said it has enough supply to vaccinate 1.4 million people – frontline health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities, such as nursing homes – this month.

For now, COVID-19’s stress on the local health care system is mild, according to the San Antonio Metropolitan Health Department’s warning indicators. But patient admissions are rising at a faster clip than in recent months, and hospitals are starting to feel the crunch.

With 730 new cases of the coronavirus reported on Wednesday, Bexar County has eclipsed 90,000 cumulative cases, and the seven-day average – while it has fallen since Tuesday – remains high at 1,004.

Local hospitals admitted 76 new COVID-19 patients on Wednesday, bringing the total patient count up to 663. About one in every six patients in local hospitals are being treated for COVID-19.

Here are the local numbers as of 7 p.m. Wednesday:

  • 90,220 total cases, 730 new cases
  • 1,406 deaths, no new deaths
  • 663 in hospital, 10% beds available
  • 226 patients in intensive care
  • 119 patients on ventilators, 63% ventilators available

JJ Velasquez was a columnist, former editor and reporter at the San Antonio Report.