As Comal County readies for COVID-19 booster shots, the number of unvaccinated patients continues to concern county officials, who reported they make up 92% of those hospitalized locally with the coronavirus.
Public Health Director Cheryl Fraser said local hospitals, which have patients from Comal and other areas, are caring for 93 COVID-19 patients, including 24 in intensive care beds and 16 on ventilators.
“From what we’re seeing, between 90% and 100% of those are unvaccinated,” Fraser told county commissioners Thursday morning. “That number is kind of alarming because it means that almost one-fourth of hospitalized patients are already in the ICU — and they are very sick.”
Fraser reported 173 new COVID cases – 143 confirmed and 30 probable – which upped the county’s total to 14,506. She said a New Braunfels man in his 70s died at a New Braunfels hospital on Tuesday, becoming the 354th Comal resident to die from the virus. Twenty-five Comal County residents are now hospitalized with COVID-19.
“The thing to point out is just how stressed our hospital systems are right now,” Fraser said later. “Today we had 93 positives in hospitals – and over a quarter of them are in ICUs.”
Fraser said because more than 25% of the county remains unvaccinated, the current surge could last for a while.
“I don’t see an end in sight,” she said. “If we had closer to 75% (vaccinated), I would feel differently. Hospitals are pulling from other places just to get (available) beds.”
The Office of Public Health has been administering Pfizer vaccines on Thursdays and Moderna vaccines on Fridays, totaling about 50 vaccines each week.
“Starting on Monday we’ll offer Pfizer every day in back-to-school shots this week and next week,” Fraser said. “Any child 12 and older is eligible to receive that vaccine.”
County health officials also reported 202 virus recoveries, increasing that total to 10,815, but active cases dropped from Tuesday’s all-time high of 1,367 to 1,337.
The county’s molecular positivity rate was at 12.4%, the antigen positivity rate at 9.33%, and the percentage of hospital beds being used by COVID patients in the 22-county region that includes Comal County, Guadalupe County and San Antonio, was 19.98%.
Comal County's vaccination rate is 55.9%, compared to the state’s 54.48% and Fraser said the county is ‘gearing up’ to dispense booster shots.
“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended them for those who are moderately or severely compromised,” Fraser said. “Those are for Pfizer and Moderna only, and we hope to begin accepting appointments sometime next week.”
Fraser said her office has been swamped with residents seeking regular back-to-school vaccines. She and County Judge Sherman Krause said the county is mapping out a process to distribute Moderna vaccines for those 18 and older and Pfizer vaccines for 12 and older.
But first, the county must get clearance from the state and federal public health authorities before it can distribute the shots through its public heath office. The CDC recommends getting anti-viral booster shots after eight months of the first two doses.
“In the future they’re talking about doing that; right now it’s only for moderate and severely compromised patients,” Fraser said. “For us, it would be November and December because we started in February and really had big numbers last March.”
Unlike then, Fraser said the vaccines are more accessible to every provider. Many locally who began inoculating those 65 and older in January, could begin by the end of the month.
Fraser said the county is estimating it might dole out between 15,000 and 15,500 booster shots — roughly half of the more than 36,000 inoculated during the free mass clinics this spring.
“We are gearing up for the worst—we hope we won’t have to but we can (go big) if we see the need,” she said.
Improved availability of vaccines – now dispensed through more providers – might spell the county from the big clinics, Krause said.
“I think you’re going to see more people going to their doctors, or to stores like Walmart and H-E-B,” he said. But we’re still anticipating a lot of people coming to the county. We might not have to stage a mass clinic at the Civic Center and continue the vaccines at the public health office.”
The county will soon begin registering residents for booster appointments. Fraser said job postings are up for a community health educator and clerical support staffers – other positions funded through a public health COVID-19 disparities grant will come before commissioners next week, Fraser said.
The county welcomes appointments for back-to-school and COVID vaccines by calling the public health office at 830-221-1150.