‘We’re holding to early spring’: UT Health SA doctor says on COVID-19 vaccines being made available to general public

Dr. Robert Leverence, with UT Health San Antonio, joined Leading SA on Sunday to discuss the Moderna vaccine

SAN ANTONIO – A glimmer of hope has brightened after the U.S. approved its second COVID-19 vaccine on Friday.

Both Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are being distributed across the nation to aid in the fight against the pandemic. However, with limited doses available, coronavirus cases are continuing to surge.

Dr. Robert Leverence, with UT Health San Antonio, joined Leading SA on Sunday to explain the Moderna vaccine and the current state of the pandemic.

“Well, this has been a very exciting time... the pandemic is really at its most grim moment. So to actually have some positive or uplifting information is just incredibly great. This has been a landmark moment for many of our health care providers, a moment filled with emotion and tears of joy by many. We vaccinated even at our own institution, thousands of health care providers just over the past four days. So it’s going very well. We’re making a lot of progress and we’re very excited now,” Dr. Leverence said.

Moderna’s vaccine was granted emergency use authorization and initial shipments have begun being sent out, as of Sunday. Dr. Leverence said this round of vaccines may be easier to store, as its cold storage requirements aren’t as strict as the Pfizer’s vaccines.

“I think it can be a real game changer. With all of the excitement of the Pfizer vaccine, one of the logistical problems is being able to move the vaccine from one center to another center because of the ultra cold storage that’s required, while Moderna doesn’t require that. So our hope is that Moderna vaccines will be populating the freezers of small pharmacies and small provider offices this week. And so, we can get these vaccines out to assisted living homes, nursing homes, home health care, individual provider offices and get their staff vaccinated and the providers themselves vaccinated,” Dr. Leverence said.

Although there are now two vaccines in the market, with the limited supply, it’s difficult to say when they could be made available to the general public. Dr. Leverence said he’s hopeful it will be ready by early spring.

“There’s so many factors involved here with the new vaccines that are coming down the pike and the amount of the supply and the timing of the supply for the current vaccines are still a lot of moving parts to this. So we’re still holding to early spring, as when we think it’ll be available to the general public if we can pull it off before then. If that’s possible, well, great. But we don’t want to overpromise,” Dr. Leverence said.

There is a sense on optimism, but we are also in the midst of more and more cases popping up each and every day. Dr. Leverence said the pandemic likely going to get worse before it improves.

“We’re clearly at the worst point in this pandemic with the highest number of hospitalizations across the state and across the country here in San Antonio. This surge has not yet approached the level that this summer’s surge approached. But I wouldn’t be surprised at all if by Christmas and New Year’s, we were at a similar level and contemplating reopening a field hospital. So this is still very concerning. The only good news is that, hey, we know that public health medications work. What I mean is, hey, we know the drill. You know, wear your mask. Wash your hands. Distance from other people. Stay home. If you don’t need to go out, those things work. So this vaccine isn’t going to have a huge impact, probably very minimal impact on this current surge. And so, boy, oh, boy, we need to be mindful throughout these holidays and continue to do the good things that have kept many people safe here thus far,” Dr. Leverence said.

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About the Authors:

Max Massey is the GMSA weekend anchor and a general assignments reporter. Max has been live at some of the biggest national stories out of Texas in recent years, including the Sutherland Springs shooting, Hurricane Harvey and the manhunt for the Austin bomber. Outside of work, Max follows politics and sports, especially Penn State, his alma mater.

Cody King is a digital journalist for KSAT 12. She previously worked for WICS/WRSP 20 in Springfield, Illinois.