As COVID-19 vaccines continue on an accelerated track local health officials are working on a plan to distribute the vaccine to people at high risk of contracting the virus, officials said at a Friday briefing. 

Worldwide, 165 vaccines are in the development pipeline, and two have been approved for use in other countries, said Dr. Larry Schlesinger, president and CEO of the Texas Biomedical Research Institute. Of those, 32 are in clinical trials.

Vaccine developers have made tremendous gains over just the past few months, but researchers and clinicians are applying the same level of rigor they would to any other trial, Schlesinger said. 

“Right now, the evidence is there’s a lot of hesitancy about the vaccines because the focus has been on speed, but … safety and effectiveness [will be proven] before those vaccines are on the market,” he said. 

Metro Health’s plan for vaccine distribution mirrors how current vaccines are distributed – with a focus on health care and front-line workers such as bus drivers.

“Those are the people that we want to be able to be working in the community and at lesser risk of being infected,” assistant director Jennifer Herriott said. 

It’s also important for people to get their flu shot so that doctors are better able to distinguish whether symptoms are flu- or COVID-19-related, Herriott said, as the local hospital system remains under high stress. 

Area hospitals are treating 520 COVID-19 patients, of which 232 are in intensive care and 153 are on ventilators.

“That is the lowest number we’ve reported in quite some time on ventilators,” Mayor Ron Nirenberg said. Not since June 28, when there were 138 ventilated patients, has local ventilator use been lower.

Officials reported 21 additional deaths Friday, bringing the toll to 698. Metro Health continues to wade through hundreds of fatalities that have been reported to the State to confirm a positive coronavirus diagnosis along with Bexar County residency. According to State data, the county’s coronavirus death toll is 981.

Ages and ethnicities of deceased

9 Hispanic women between ages 60 and 99

7 Hispanic men between ages 60 and 89

1 Asian man in his 30s

1 white man in his 40s

1 white woman in her 60s

1 man of unknown ethnicity in his 60s

1 woman of unknown ethnicity in her 70s

With 173 new coronavirus cases Monday, the total is now 44,814. 

Nirenberg said that the positivity rate – among the most important COVID-19 indicators because it shows the prevalence of community transmission – is likely to go down on Monday when it is recalculated. 

It is currently at 11.3 percent, below the state average of 14.1 percent. 

Bexar County’s 7-day moving average for new cases of coronavirus dropped to 142 per day on Friday. 

Herriott said that while numbers are trending in the right direction, people need to remain vigilant and refrain from congregating in large crowds or with people outside of the home in order to prevent a spike in cases similar to what Bexar County saw after the Fourth of July. 

“Another spike [would] set us back, so we cannot take our foot off the gas pedal,” she said. “Anytime our numbers start to go down I think people start to feel a little bit more comfortable, and we just can’t do that. We’ve got to have people continuing to stay home.”

Roseanna Garza reports on health and bioscience for the San Antonio Report.