A University Health employee prepares the Moderna vaccine for eligible residents at the Wonderland of the Americas mall. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Coronavirus vaccine appointments offered by University Health for people 65 and older and those with chronic medical conditions were quickly filled Friday night, even though vaccine supplies are not assured.

Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff announced the new appointments for next week and the weeks of Feb. 8 and Feb. 15 at a media briefing Friday evening. According to University Health officials, 24,000 slots were available for residents who are part of the state’s Phase 1B group.

Scheduling appointments a few weeks in advance is intended to make the process more orderly, Wolff said.

“We’ve been restricting it to one week at a time, but we’re going to go ahead and have people sign up, not knowing for sure that we’ll have the vaccine,” he said. “But we figured it would be a lot easier to have everybody sign up so there won’t be such a big crush in that one week.”

This week, University Health has been vaccinating primarily school district personnel at the Wonderland of Americas Mall, one of four mass vaccine hubs in San Antonio, and that process will continue Monday. Beginning Feb. 1, the Wonderland facility will host people returning for their second doses of either the Moderna or the Pfizer-BioNTech shots, Wolff said. He said he expects 3,000 doses a day to be administered, and both types of vaccines will be given simultaneously in separate areas of the mall.

The race to get as many residents vaccinated as supplies from the state health department make possible comes amid a spiking local death toll. Seventeen deaths were reported Friday, raising the total death toll to 1,874, along with 2,247 new coronavirus cases. Fifty-two deaths were reported in the past three days alone.

“All of us now know someone – or a family member – very close to us, who we’ve lost to this terrible virus,” Mayor Ron Nirenberg said during the briefing.

Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar announced the death Friday of Deputy Jesse Zamarron, a 23-year veteran of the department. Zamarron, who was 68, died at St. Luke’s hospital, where he had been admitted on Jan. 13 after testing positive on Jan. 11. Salazar called the deputy’s death a “very sad occasion.”

Although the total number of COVID-19 hospitalizations declined slightly to 1,393, there were 181 new hospital admissions and more than 34 percent of all patients hospitalized across the county were fighting the illness.

Despite the grim numbers, a new survey from the Episcopal Health Foundation indicates that more than 60 percent of the state’s population is hesitant to get vaccinated against the virus.

The biggest hurdle Texas faces is misinformation about the safety of the vaccine within populations most heavily affected by COVID-19, said Bob Sanborn, president and CEO of the child-focused nonprofit Children at Risk, who discussed the survey’s results.

“If we don’t get them vaccinated, and we don’t get these other groups vaccinated, it’s very difficult for us to really conquer COVID-19,” Sanborn said during a press conference Friday. “Texas is the state with the largest percentage of our adults that do not have health insurance … and it’s that very group of adults that we become worried about.”

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

  • 157,835 total cases, 2,247 new cases
  • 1,874 deaths, 17 new deaths
  • 1,393 in hospital, 11% beds available
  • 414 patients in intensive care
  • 252 patients on ventilators, 51% ventilators available
  • 95,237 residents vaccinated (at least one dose)

Wendy Lane Cook is the managing editor at the San Antonio Report. Contact her at wendy@sareport.org.