Dear faculty, staff, students and residents:
In mid-December of 2020, at a time when we were trying to prepare for the holiday season in the context of a deadly pandemic, we, the nation and the world took a major step forward in defeating COVID-19 as the first doses of the Pfizer vaccine arrived on the UT Health San Antonio loading dock. The arrival of the vaccine and the commencement of vaccinations signaled a major change in the calculus of the anti-pandemic effort because the vaccination strategy is designed to actually defeat the morbid effects of the infection, not just control the spread of the infection through masking and distancing.
So, as challenging a year as 2020 was, it ended on an upbeat note. That positivity animates our hope for an end to the pandemic in 2021. However, no one should underestimate the difficulty of the weeks and months ahead: January and February are predicted by modeling forecasts to be the worst days of the pandemic. That said, at UT Health San Antonio we will have distributed by mid-January 21,000 vaccine doses (first and second doses) to our constituents, following guidelines established by the CDC, the State of Texas and the UT Health SA Vaccine Assessment and Access Task Force. The Task Force is ably led by Dr. Tom Patterson (Chief of Infectious Diseases) and Dr. Mike Charlton (Assistant Vice President Risk Management) and includes 35 members of our university community with expertise in epidemiology, basic science, pharmacology and medical ethics. We have focused first on health care workers, first responders and essential personnel along with our professional student body. We have shared 10% of our vaccine allotment with our community health care colleagues in order to help vaccinate their COVID-facing staff. And recently, as mandated by the state, we have begun to vaccinate our patients over 65 years of age and those with medical conditions that put them at increased risk for COVID morbidity (this includes patients at the Mays Cancer Center).
Our strategy is to vaccinate as many people as we can, as expeditiously as we can. Our current supply of vaccine is likely to be depleted in a few weeks. We have requested additional vaccine supply from the state, assuring them that our ability to administer the vaccine safely and efficiently is unsurpassed.
This last point is not hyperbole. The team which has designed our vaccination protocol (led by Drs. Cindy Sickora, Mike Charlton and Bob Leverence) is comprised of hundreds of people: nurses, doctors, pharmacists, students, public safety personnel and facilities and environmental health and safety staff. Everyone who has been through our vaccine center agrees that this group has done a sensational job — they managed to create a friendly and welcoming ambience while still exhibiting consummate professionalism and efficiency.
I will provide updates on progress as events unfold, with a focus on the (hoped for) arrival of new vaccine supply.
As a new calendar year begins, we often express the hope to friends and family that the upcoming year will be healthy and prosperous. As 2021 dawns, such hope is well placed and well founded as we have two very effective vaccines soon to be followed by a half dozen others. There is a tangible sense of justifiable optimism in the air and it is particularly inspiring to witness the resolve, the resiliency and the commitment of everyone at UT Health to advance the life-saving missions of care, discovery and learning even as we lead in the effort to forever relegate COVID-19 to history.
Thank you for everything you do to make lives better.
With admiration, appreciation and respect,
William L. Henrich, MD, MACP
President and Professor of Medicine