Note: Editor Robert Rivard’s weekly column is now a twice-weekly column that will appear each Thursday and Sunday.
Thousands of San Antonians learned last week that there is a big difference between the existence of a COVID-19 vaccine and the availability of that vaccine. The City’s telephone lines and website, and a phone line for appointments offered by WellMed, were overwhelmed by people trying to score a coveted appointment to get the inoculation.
Most who tried failed, though that was no fault of local officials. A fairly efficient public vaccine delivery system is being quickly built out, with a few glitches. The real problem? Supply simply cannot meet demand.
I am 68 years old, with friends and acquaintances who qualify for the Phase 1B group. Most who tried to register were met with busy signals, unresponsive web pages, or the unwelcome news that all appointment slots had been filled.
For the tens or hundreds of thousands of people in San Antonio’s 1B group – those 65 and older and those with pre-existing conditions – patience, face mask usage, and social distancing is the next best thing while City and public health officials await word from the state about the arrival of the next supply of vaccines.
The state, of course, is waiting to hear from the federal government, which is waiting to hear from the vaccine manufacturers. This national vaccination development and implementation program is happening in an unprecedented time frame. It eclipses any public health initiative in the country’s history. Still, settle in for a wait.
Part of the challenge in San Antonio is the large population of 1B eligible individuals: people who are obese or have Type II diabetes, coronary and pulmonary disease, and other conditions that place them at greater risk. There is an urgency to get this group vaccinated. After all, most who have died from the virus belong to that 1B group.
Yet, even as we jostle for vaccine appointments, too many people in San Antonio continue to behave irresponsibly. The number of coronavirus infections, hospitalizations, the positivity rate, the number of people dying, all are at or near record levels. Coronavirus cases and hospitalizations in San Antonio are spiking, even though the means to contain the spread is entirely within our collective reach.
Too many selfish people have forgotten about the common good. People say they are “over it.” Young people say they can get it and maybe not even know they have it, much less fall seriously ill. But we as a city are not over it, and every person who defies pleas by state and local officials to wear masks and practice social distancing is putting great numbers of other people at risk.
I wish every anti-masker could spend 30 minutes in a COVID-19 unit at an area hospital to experience firsthand how people are suffering, how families are helpless to comfort or even touch loved ones, how first responders and health workers are risking their lives each day doctoring and nursing these critically ill people.
Yet the numbers just keep climbing. Does anyone still argue the seasonal flu is worse, or COVID-19 is just like the flu? How much evidence do people need to change reckless behaviors?
Readers should take media coverage of vaccine registrations and vaccine events in context. This massive public health undertaking is just getting started. Think about it this way: The pandemic could endure for as many months in 2021 as it did in 2020.
I see good things happening, even amid the worsening numbers. Our elected leaders, led by Mayor Ron Nirenberg and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, have remained steadfast in their commitment to keep the population safe and the economy open.
Graham Weston and his team at the 80/20 Foundation’s belief in the necessity for “rapid, reliable testing” in San Antonio led to the creation of Community Labs, with the help of the Kronkosky Foundation and the Tobin Endowment, in partnership with BioBridge Global. That initiative, in turn, is now serving most of the inner city school districts. State authorities are working to deploy Community Labs for first responders throughout Texas, and federal health officials hope to take Community Labs beyond Texas.
San Antonio’s bioscience and medical brain trust, including the Texas Biomedical Research Institute and its work with animal tests, and Clinical Trials of Texas with clinical human trials, helped expedite vaccine development.
When San Antonio’s history with COVID-19 is written, there will be many heroes. There also will be accounts of selfish people, of people who do not believe in science or vaccines, people who decided not wearing a mask was some sort of act of civil liberty. Had we all acted together, far fewer people would have been infected, far fewer would have died.
A reader posted a negative comment in response to one of my other recent columns about the pandemic, dismissing me as a “science advocate.” It wasn’t meant as flattery. Yet it is science that will save that reader’s life and science that urges us to adopt a community ethos of “one for all, and all for one” as the surest way to defeat the pandemic.
Until then, we will have to wait patiently in line for the vaccine.
The 80/20 Foundation and Texas Biomedical Research Institute are financial supporters of the San Antonio Report. For a full list of business and nonprofit members, click here.