After administering more than 100,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines by the end of March, UT Health San Antonio is continuing to target individuals and vulnerable populations in Bexar County in the fight against the virus.

UT Health San Antonio’s clinical practice was designated a major COVID-19 vaccine hub Jan. 21 by the Texas Department of State Health Services, focused on vaccinating priority populations such as health care workers and the elderly. On March 10, UT Health San Antonio announced it had begun offering online vaccine scheduling to all members of the community who meet the current eligibility requirements outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as the state.

As of late March, about 37,000 individuals had been completely vaccinated through UT Health San Antonio, said Robert Leverence, MD, chief medical officer of UT Health Physicians practice.

“This includes the 14,000 or so patients of the physicians practice, 9,000 employees and students, 13,000 who came on to the website to sign up, and then 3,000 more we’ve reached out to — child care providers, mobile vaccinations and health care workers,” Dr. Leverence said.

He emphasized that UT Health San Antonio is still focused on vaccinating vulnerable populations. “We’re not ready yet to be vaccinating healthy 20-year-olds. So we’ve asked them to voluntarily hold off from jumping on our websites.”

Two initiatives are notable, Dr. Leverence said. First, the university is reaching out to churches to sign up members, especially churches with minority populations, many of whom have vaccine hesitancy.

Second, UT Health San Antonio is partnering with the Bexar County Medical Society and Health Access San Antonio, a health information exchange, to address the 12.5% of San Antonians who don’t have internet access.

“They are probably the most vulnerable population right now because there just hasn’t been an effective strategy for them,” Dr. Leverence said. “They really struggle with getting a vaccine because the registration for hubs is on the web. Some have phone registration but it can be hard to get through on a phone.”

Michael Charlton, PhD, assistant vice president for risk management and safety, said herd immunity is the immediate goal.

“What we want is enough people in Bexar County who have the vaccination or have natural infection to be able to prevent person-to-person spread,” he said. “We’re looking to have at least 60% of Bexar County vaccinated to achieve herd immunity. Currently, about one in three people have at least one dose and about one in five people in Bexar County is fully vaccinated. Those numbers change day by day. Our percentages track substantially with other big metropolitan areas in Texas.”

Both Drs. Leverence and Charlton said they don’t expect substantial changes in the role of the vaccine hubs or the strategies of UT Health San Antonio.

“Hubs probably won’t see a big change in the amount of doses they receive,” Dr. Charlton said. “We’ve been relatively static for about two months. Maybe that’s not a bad thing. It gives us a lot of predictability.”

Dr. Leverence predicted that there will be a much broader distribution in the near future.

“There are over 170 vaccine providers in this city, mainly pharmacies,” he said. “We suspect that over the next month, vaccine administration activity will substantially begin transferring over to these pharmacies, and that will be good for the community.”

But while good news is apparent and optimism grows, Dr. Leverence warned that “COVID isn’t going away from the face of the earth, but our goal is that it won’t be dominating our lives in the future.

“We’re confident we’re going to get there, but the question is will it be sooner or later and with how many more deaths,” he added. “Our concern is that many are already relaxing their public health measures now — spring breaks on the beach, large crowds, no masks, not washing hands — and going back to the old way of life. Two-thirds of our population is still susceptible to the virus. We could see one more surge, and no one wants that.”