The COVID-19 vaccination is given out at UT Health on Tuesday, December 15th, 2020. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Health care workers at University Health who work closely with COVID-19 patients began receiving the first dose of the two-part Pfizer vaccine Friday as Bexar County’s coronavirus case count passed the 100,000 mark. 

Local officials reported 936 new cases, pushing the cumulative total to 100,078, a number Mayor Ron Nirenberg called “devastating.” The increase brought the county’s seven-day average to 1,078 cases. Two more Bexar County residents died from COVID-19 for a total of 1,442 lives lost locally during the pandemic.

An additional 110 patients with COVID-19 were admitted to local hospitals, and the total patient count stood at 832, 275 of whom are in intensive care.

But at a press briefing Friday evening, Nirenberg held aloft “a little bottle of a miracle,” an empty vial of the Pfizer vaccine. As the mayor spoke, news broke that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration had authorized a second coronavirus vaccine, developed by Moderna, for emergency use.

“This is for a lot of us – certainly from a public health standpoint – a turning point,” said University Health Chief Medical Officer Bryan Alsip of the vaccines. “We are finally going on the offensive against COVID-19. Having been on defense for the better part of a year, that’s a refreshing change.”

Dr. Elliott Mandell, University Health’s chief of pharmacy, said the logistics of handling the Pfizer vaccine, which requires refrigeration at more than minus-100 degrees Fahrenheit, add a layer of complexity to the process of getting people vaccinated. 

Specific time frames govern how long the drug can be in a frozen state and how long it can be refrigerated so that a vial’s rubber stopper can thaw sufficiently and a needle be inserted, Mandell said. The drug then has to be diluted with saline and administered to patients within a designated amount of time. 

“We really have to set up a process that is extraordinarily strict and run with military precision,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will send to Texas 460,500 doses of the Moderna vaccine and 159,900 doses of the Pfizer vaccine to continue to vaccinate frontline health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities.

The Moderna vaccine was set to begin shipping over the weekend and start arriving in Texas on Monday, according to a press release from the Texas Department of State Health Services.

“Our state will be receiving allocations of a second vaccine able to protect Texans from COVID-19,” said Dr. John Hellerstedt, DSHS commissioner. “Adding the Moderna vaccine will dramatically increase the amount of vaccine that can go to rural areas and smaller providers because it ships in smaller quantities and can be stored longer at regular refrigerator temperatures.” 

Most of the Pfizer vaccine, – almost 125,000 doses  – will go to pharmacies participating in a federal program that provides vaccinations for long-term care facilities. The rest will be distributed to hospitals to continue vaccinating health care workers.

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

  • 100,078 total cases, 936 new cases
  • 1,442 deaths, two new deaths
  • 832 in hospital, 9% beds available
  • 275 patients in intensive care
  • 140 patients on ventilators, 58% ventilators available
Wendy Lane Cook

Wendy Lane Cook

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