San Antonio’s University Health ready to administer COVID-19 vaccines by mid-December

By Scott Huddleston, Staff writer

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University Health could be ready to start administering COVID-19 vaccines by mid-December if pharmaceutical companies secure federal emergency authorization in the next two weeks, the health system’s president told Bexar County commissioners Tuesday.

“Our understanding is that the vaccine itself will be free,” but may involve administrative costs processed through health maintenance organizations, George Hernández, president and CEO of the county health system, told commissioners about plans to distribute vaccines produced by Pfizer and Moderna.

“So (December) 11th, 12th, 13th, that vaccine will be flowing. There’s some discussion that the vaccine may flow in advance of that and be already at sites, but I haven’t had confirmation of that,” Hernández said.

The first recipients will be health care professional and support staff members who come into contact with coronavirus patients.

It will be a complicated process, with both vaccines requiring cold storage and administered in two doses — the second dose given on the 21st day for the Pfizer vaccine and 28th day for the one developed by Moderna.

While answering question from commissioners, Hernández said the system might also be able to provide drive-through vaccination events.

“We have to have a bar code system so we get the right vaccine to the right patient. It’s about as complicated as it gets,” he said.

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A committee of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention that is preparing recommendations for governors across the country has not decided whether nursing home residents should be included in the first tier of individuals to receive the vaccine or the second tier, Hernández said prior to a presentation on the system’s debt service and capital budgets for 2021.

“At some point it will be available to the general public. And what will University Hospital’s role be with respect to that?” Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff asked.

Hernández said University Health is qualifying 27 sites in its system to distribute the vaccines, with priority given to first responders, people over 65 and individuals with pre-existing conditions

“And then subsequent to that, we think probably toward the end of the first quarter, there will be the general public that doesn’t fit any of those categories,” he said.

In other business at Tuesday’s meeting, commissioners authorized the county’s Environmental Services Department to solicit proposals for waste disposal in Camelot II, Candlewood, Crownwood and The Glen neighborhoods in eastern Bexar County.

The department is seeking private haulers to offer twice-a-week residential collections in those areas, using 96-gallon carts provided by the contractors. The county seeks to initiate a three-year pilot program with a two-year renewal option to serve between 3,500 and 3,700 homes.

For years, dating to the 1990s, garbage piled up in parts of Camelot II, which has about 600 homes in an unincorporated part of the county, before the city of San Antonio started a pilot sanitation hauling program in 2015. With that program set to expire at the end of June 2021, county officials have been working to contract with private haulers to serve Camelot II and surrounding neighborhoods that also are underserved.

Daniel Oldham, a resident in The Glen, asked commissioners to support a plan to “replicate the success” of the pilot program in Camelot II, using private contractors there and in surrounding neighborhoods. He said residents who already have private trash pickup service would likely pay less under the new system, and would benefit from a cleaner, healthier environment.

“With COVID-19, it’s an urgent health issue,” Oldham said.

Commissioners Court also approved creating a nonprofit foundation to privately raise funds to support the two-year-old Bexar County Military and Veterans Services Center at 1422 E. Grayson St. The center assists military veterans and dependents with job placement, mortgage and utility assistance and federal benefits eligibility and services.

The new foundation will be overseen by a five-member board, appointed by commissioners, of veterans who reside in Bexar County.

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Commissioners also heard about a best practices presented by the Texas Association of Counties to Bexar County Clerk Lucy Adame-Clark and her staff for the county’s “Records on the Run” program, which provides marriage licenses, assumed business name certificates, real property records and electronic documentation of property records remotely, saving residents a drive downtown and parking costs.

According to the office, the program processed 1,520 records and generated nearly $62,000 in revenue since it launched in October 2019. Adame-Clark said it also has provided a convenient way to serve transportation-challenged Bexar County residents, particularly the elderly and disabled.

“We knew we needed to bridge the gaps between county government and the community,” she said.

Scott Huddleston covers Bexar County government and the Alamo for the San Antonio Express-News. To read more from Scott, become a subscriber. | Twitter: @shuddlestonSA

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