On May 28, the Texas Army National Guard completed its seven-week mission at UT Health San Antonio’s COVID-19 community vaccination hub.

Beginning April 8, the guard provided a rotating team of eight medics and eight logistical support members. They contributed to more than 162,000 vaccinations administered overall in the UT Health San Antonio vaccine hub since the first shipment of Pfizer vaccines arrived here in December.

The guard’s assistance allowed more than 500 UT Health San Antonio volunteers to return to the university’s core missions of education, research and clinical care.

“The National Guard’s support of UT Health San Antonio’s mass vaccination hub has been instrumental in helping vaccinate our local community. Their steadfast engagement with our patients, students and health care providers has been nothing short of amazing,” said Michael Charlton, PhD, CHP, LMP, CIH, CSP, CHMM, associate vice president for facilities, safety and risk management.

Dr. Charlton requested the guard’s assistance through the Southwest Texas Regional Advisory Council (STRAC), which coordinates emergency medical responses throughout South Texas. STRAC requested the guard’s assistance from Chief Nim Kidd, director of the Texas Division of Emergency Management, which oversees all state assistance to local and regional governments.

Cindy Sickora, DNP, RN, and Byron Hepburn, MD, also were involved in acquiring the assistance. Dr. Sickora is vice dean of practice and engagement in the School of Nursing, and Dr. Hepburn is director of UT Health San Antonio’s Military Health Institute.

The guard’s Lt. Col. Peter Ammerman said that more than 55 soldiers have been supporting various vaccination sites in San Antonio. Many of the guard members are combat medics, while others hold other jobs and have been assigned to logistics. Their duties included guiding those receiving shots into the School of Nursing, answering questions about filling out consent forms, observing the patients afterwards for possible side effects and helping them back to the parking area.

John Turner, MEd, director of business operations in the School of Nursing, credited the guard with improving processes.

“They come from so many different walks of life and have already assisted at many other vaccination clinics, so they bring new perspectives,” he said.

Among the guard’s suggestions were proposing a different traffic pattern inside the School of Nursing to reduce contact between those filling out consent forms and patients who had received their injection.

The guard members helped reduce the risk of infection by asking those who completed their 15-minute observation period to wipe down their chairs with disinfectant.

“This way, we were able to protect our housekeeping staff,” Turner said.

And when 45 people from Austin who spoke only French came for shots, guard members moved into action, helping the nursing staff provide procedural instructions in French for the hall TV monitors.

“We sometimes just get locked into our own culture of English and Spanish and weren’t thinking of those who spoke other languages,” Turner said. “It’s been great to have them here to relieve our volunteers who had been helping for months since our vaccination clinic opened.”

Volunteers took the first shift

Beginning with UT Health San Antonio’s first shipment of the Pfizer vaccine in December until the guard arrived, hundreds of UT Health San Antonio faculty, staff, students and residents provided vaccinations and assisted colleagues and the public with the vaccination process.

More than 500 volunteers, including over 300 student volunteers, assisted, according to Cynthia Adcock, community engagement and special projects coordinator in the Office of the President.

Among the more frequent volunteers were students from the School of Nursing and Joe R. and Teresa Lozano Long School of Medicine, as well as physical therapy, occupational therapy and respiratory care students from School of Health Professions.

Others who volunteered regularly included staff members from the Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Molecular Genetics, and Room Scheduling, as well as Alexander Shepherd, M.D., clinical professor of general medicine.

“So many people helped and we are grateful to them all,” Adcock said.

On May 24, President William L. Henrich, MD, MACP, announced that these efforts contributed to more than one-third of Bexar County’s residents receiving the vaccine, and that 85% of UT Health San Antonio’s employees, students and residents are now inoculated.

With these accomplishments, COVID-19 vaccinations have now mostly transitioned from the School of Nursing to the UT Health Physicians practices at the Medical Arts & Research Center and its primary care clinics throughout the city. Dr. Sickora said that the School of Nursing is still providing COVID vaccines at its Wellness 360 clinics on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, as well as at locations served by its Mobile Health Unit.

President Henrich and local health officials continue to urge employees, their families and the public to get vaccinated. Visit UTHealthCare.org/COVID to learn how to receive the COVID-19 vaccine through UT Health San Antonio.