Local health officials are preparing to distribute San Antonio’s first allotment of COVID-19 vaccinations under guidelines developed by the state, City officials confirmed Friday.

San Antonio will be receiving 28,275 vaccination doses across 12 local hospitals or systems as part of the state’s week 1 COVID-19 vaccination allocation, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. The state’s first week’s allocation is 224,250 doses of the Pfizer vaccine to be shipped to 109 hospitals in 34 counties across the state as early as next week, the Texas DSHS states on its website.

City health officials attended a virtual town hall hosted by KSAT 12 and answered questions about vaccine distribution and safety.

“At first, it’s going to be folks who are on the front lines of health care and people living in long term care facilities,” said Dr. Ruth Berggren, UT Health professor of medicine and director for the Center for Medical Humanities and Ethics.

“Subsequently with additional phases, we’ll bring in people who are firefighters, and police officers, and folks working in detention facilities, educators, people who work in food and agriculture, and then we bring in the next phase where we’re looking at folks that are over the age of 64 and/or who have some kind of medical condition that would make them be more vulnerable,” Berggren said.

While the vaccine is in limited supply, Texas will receive “regular allotments of vaccine from the federal government,” the Texas DSHS said in an official statement last week. Vaccine production is expected to increase following news Thursday that Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine passed a critical step after a Food and Drug Administration advisory panel voted to recommend approval

The Texas DSHS has created an Expert Vaccine Allocation Panel (EVAP) to make recommendations to prioritize allocations of the vaccine. EVAP is operating under guiding principles that consider protecting front line and health care workers, protecting vulnerable populations, mitigating health inequities, aligning with data, and transparency, according to the statement by the DSHS.

Under phase 1A of distribution, health care workers “working directly with patients who are positive or at high risk for COVID-19” will receive the vaccine first, DSHS officials said. 

This “first tier” group includes physicians, nurses, respiratory therapists and other support staff, long-term care staff, EMS providers, home health care workers, hospice care workers, and additional clinical staff who provide supporting work in labs, pharmacies, and rehab centers. Also set under the first tier is residents of long-term care facilities. 

Under the second tier is staff working in outpatient care offices, including outpatient physicians, nurses, and support staff, clinical staff who provide supporting work in labs, pharmacies, and rehab centers, and non 9-1-1 transport for routine care. Also under the second tier is direct care staff in freestanding emergency medical care facilities and urgent care clinics, and community pharmacy staff.

Tier three includes public health and emergency response staff, last responders such as embalmers, funeral home workers, and medical examiners, and school nurses who provide health care to students and teachers. 

In a public letter to Gov. Greg Abbott, San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff asked the governor to consider designating all teachers and education faculty in the front-line tiers. 

“While school nurses are more likely to interact with students who may be sick, studies have shown that children, teens and young adults are less likely to present with COVID-19 symptoms – making teachers and faculty just as susceptible to the asymptomatic spread of this pandemic,” their joint letter states. 

Nirenberg and Wolff also requested that any available CARES Act resources go toward testing for Texas students, educators, and faculty. 

“With the holiday season upon us, and the potential for an uptick in travel and gatherings, we must do everything we can to bring peace of mind to our students, parents, teachers, faculty and community,” the letter states.

While the first phase of vaccination distribution for healthcare workers does include some regional hospital systems in Bexar County, it does not include all San Antonio hospitals – a concern raised by Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran (D3) and Councilwoman Adriana Rocha Garcia (D4). 

According to the Texas DSHS website, doses of the vaccine will be delivered to the following hospitals:

  • San Antonio State Hospital
  • North Central Baptist Hospital
  • St. Lukes Baptist Hospital
  • Christus Santa Rosa – Medical Center
  • Christus Santa Rosa Hospital – Westover Hills
  • University Health System – Inpatient
  • Methodist Hospital and Methodist Children’s Hospital
  • Methodist Metropolitan Hospital
  • Northeast Baptist Hospital
  • Wellness 360
  • Baptist Medical Center

In a press release issued Wednesday, Viagran and Rocha Garcia jointly said they want to see the City roll out the vaccine to high-priority areas, such as the southern sector of San Antonio.

“We’ve seen how this public health crisis can ravage our vulnerable communities, especially those with a high rate of residents who are underinsured or have no health insurance,” the statement said. “If co-morbidities are prevalent in some of the communities we serve, we need to be mindful of our response efforts, specifically by increasing access to the COVID-19 vaccine and medical care.”

Rocha Garcia added as future distribution phases begin to take shape, she wants to see the City utilizing an equitable approach as more rounds of COVID-19 vaccines are made available. This can be achieved by including smaller hospitals and clinics located in our hard-hit communities and serve our constituents in low income areas like the South Side, she said.

During the town hall State Rep. Barbara Gervin-Hawkins (D-San Antonio) said while its undecided who that phase 2 group will be, educating the community and especially communities of color about vaccinations will be vital to the success of the vaccine. 

“I am so optimistic that once communities of color are properly educated, and they know what they’re up against, [they will want to receive it],” Gervin-Hawkins said. “We’ve got to reach as close to 80 percent of people vaccinated as possible.”

Lindsey Carnett covers the environment, science and utilities for the San Antonio Report. A native San Antonian, she graduated from Texas A&M University in 2016 with a degree in telecommunication media...