Residents at Blue Skies of Texas on Wednesday became some of the first recipients of the COVID-19 vaccine at San Antonio long-term care facilities.

Immunization technicians from CVS Pharmacy administered the Pfizer vaccine to 27 residents and 33 staff at the Blue Skies’ Freedom House memory care unit on Tuesday, and Walgreens sent a pharmacist and immunization technician to administer 60 more shots at Blue Skies’ Liberty House assisted living facility on Wednesday. Blue Skies of Texas has about 1,000 residents on two campuses, many of them military veterans.

Walgreens store manager Brian Biela said the pharmacy chain has administered vaccines to approximately 10 long-term care facilities in San Antonio so far.

“We’re going to be doing 15 [clinics] a day as things start ramping up,” Biela said. “Right now we’re just doing the long-term care facilities. That may change eventually, but right now that’s all we’re contracted to do.”

The long-awaited vaccine could not come soon enough for the memory care facility, which houses 48 residents. Blue Skies President and CEO Darrell Jones said an outbreak last week in one of the house’s three wings exposed 19 people to the coronavirus, but all are doing well.

Freedom House director Kurt Riddel and managing nurse Sandra Gonzalez lined up to receive the vaccine on Tuesday.

“It didn’t hurt at all,” said Riddel. “It was a good feeling to know that we’re taking this first step to protect everybody. … We’re so scared of always giving [the residents] something. It’s a really good feeling to see them taking that step to protect themselves as well.”

Gonzalez, who has worked at Blue Skies for 22 years, said it was also a matter of limiting exposure to her family.

“With the population that I work with here at Freedom House, all of our residents have dementia, so they are the most vulnerable,” she said. “I want to do everything I can to protect them and also to protect my family at home.”

On Wednesday, Liberty House residents lined up outside a room where the pharmacist prepared the vaccines and the immunization technician administered the shots. After residents received their shots, they proceeded to another room where staff would monitor them for 30 minutes for any adverse reactions to the vaccine.

Blue Skies of Texas is among the first of long term care facilities in San Antonio to begin wide distribution of the Pfizer vaccine to its residents and employees. Photos taken on December 30, 2020.
Blue Skies of Texas employees Sheila Fontenot and Maria Fernandez wait 30 minutes after receiving the Pfizer vaccine in case they develop allergic reactions to the injection. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

“We’ve done vaccination clinics for years,” said Biela. “With COVID it’s a little bit different.” Biela explained that the immunization team has to check the vaccine’s storage temperature regularly and mix the vaccine, adding a couple of minutes to the process.

Of the 60 shots available Wednesday, 29 residents and 16 Liberty House staff received the vaccine, with the other 15 doses going to other Blue Skies employees, including Jones.

Liberty House residents Jerry Bullock and his wife, Lucille, have lived at Blue Skies for three years and were among those to receive the vaccine.

“I felt fine. [It was] just another shot,” Jerry Bullock said. “I’m tired of being shut in, and if this can open the doors a little bit, I’m ready to do it.”

“We’re thankful that we got it and hope it works,” Lucille Bullock said.

On Monday, the residents of the independent living apartments on the Blue Skies West campus are scheduled to receive the vaccine. According to Jones, a total of 721 people are expected to receive the vaccine that day.

Independent living residents Roger Hansen and Stet Reid said they expect to get their shots next week.

Blue Skies of Texas is among the first of long term care facilities in San Antonio to begin wide distribution of the Pfizer vaccine to its residents and employees. Photos taken on December 30, 2020.
Blue Skies of Texas residents wait to be given the Pfizer vaccine. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

“I am delighted to see that between the independent living residents and the employees we have, something like 700 people signed up, a good 86 percent,” Reid said. “I think that’s just outstanding because that’s what we need. We need as many people vaccinated as soon as possible.

“I’m really pleased the state of Texas decided that old guys like me get to move to the front of the line.”

Robert Certain and his wife, who reside together at Blue Skies, will also be receiving the vaccine on Monday. Certain said they signed up to receive the vaccine due to his wife’s underlying medical conditions.

“As soon as the word went out that we could sign up to get it, we both sent an email over to [the Blue Skies health care services office] immediately saying we’re ready at the first opportunity,” said Certain.

Jones said total distribution of the vaccine at Blue Skies is expected to be completed by Tuesday. Immunization teams will then need to return around mid-January to administer the vaccine’s booster shot.

Samantha Ruvalcaba, who grew up in San Antonio, is a Shiner intern and junior at St. Mary's University studying international and global studies with a minor in communications.