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As hospitals in the San Antonio region see a crushing surge of patients with COVID-19, a bipartisan group of area lawmakers is calling on Gov. Greg Abbott to send more health care workers to help relieve a staffing shortage amid the omicron wave.
Who is eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine?
People ages 5-17 are eligible to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. People ages 18 and older are eligible to get the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines, which are now preferred over the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Is the COVID-19 vaccine safe and effective?
All vaccines in the United States must go through three phases of clinical trials to make sure they are safe and effective. During the development of COVID-19 vaccines, phases overlapped to speed up the process, but all phases were completed, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. State data shows that unvaccinated Texans made up 85% of coronavirus cases and deaths from Jan. 15 to Oct. 1, 2021.
Should I still get the vaccine if I've had COVID-19?
Yes. Research has not yet shown how long you are protected from getting COVID-19 again after recovering from COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and vaccination will boost protection.
If you were treated for COVID-19 with monoclonal antibodies or convalescent plasma, you should wait 90 days before getting a COVID-19 vaccine. Talk to your doctor if you are unsure what treatments you received or if you have more questions about getting a COVID-19 vaccine.
Where can I get the COVID-19 vaccine in Texas?
Most chain pharmacies and many independent ones have a ready supply of the vaccine, and many private doctors' offices also have it. Texas has compiled other options for finding vaccine appointments here, and businesses or civic organizations can set up vaccine clinics to offer it to employees, visitors, customers or members. The vaccine is free, and you don’t need health insurance to get it.
Who can get a COVID-19 booster shot?
The protection the vaccine offers can wane over time, so medical experts recommend getting a booster shot. People ages 18 and older are eligible for booster shots, according to recommendations from the CDC. Recipients ages 12-17 who received the Pfizer vaccine as their initial two-dose treatment are eligible to receive the Pfizer vaccine as their booster.
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“If we’re having a major surge because people refuse to either get vaccinated or wear masks, we need help,” state Sen. José Menéndez said. “As the leader of the state, as the CEO of the state, he [Abbott] needs to step up and find a way to help us.”
A representative for Abbott referred a request for comment to the Texas Department of State Health Services, which did not respond Friday.
Officials in Texas’ major metropolitan areas are increasingly scrambling to find health care workers to deal with a wave of patients with COVID-19 driven by the highly contagious omicron variant. Burnout among health care workers, departures from the industry and infections among staff have strained hospitals as they deal with a huge influx of new COVID-19 patients.
This week, San Antonio officials sounded the alarm over the staffing shortage as the region’s hospitals are pushed to the brink. In the two-week period ending Thursday, Bexar County has seen the steepest increase in new COVID-19 cases among Texas’ largest counties.
As of Friday evening, San Antonio-area hospitals held more than 1,000 coronavirus patients — more than five times the number of such patients in area hospital beds on Dec. 24, according to city data.
Meanwhile, hundreds of nurses in Bexar County hospitals are out sick each day as they, too, contract the virus, according to a letter co-written by Menéndez, a Democrat, and 13 other regional lawmakers — including Republicans Donna Campbell and Steve Allison.
It’s unclear just how many additional health care workers the region would need to deal with staff shortages amid the omicron surge. Last week, Abbott sent some 411 nurses and respiratory therapists to Bexar County hospitals — but that’s not enough, local officials have said.
“With experts stating that the omicron variant has not yet hit its peak, we will continue to see a dramatic rise in cases,” the letter reads. “Additional help is needed to keep our hospital systems afloat and to provide care for patients when they are hospitalized.”
The bipartisan letter backs up a similar request made earlier this week by San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, who warned that area hospitals could soon be overwhelmed if more help doesn’t arrive soon.
“We will quickly reach capacity in our hospitals as admissions of COVID-19 patients continue to increase rapidly,” Nirenberg and Wolff wrote to Abbott on Monday.
Some officials aren’t waiting on Abbott for help. In Houston, Harris County commissioners approved a $40 million contract this week to hire more than 600 nurses to back up area hospitals.
In the meantime, health care workers are encountering a sense of déjà vu from previous surges. At University Health System in San Antonio, many staffers have been asked to take extra shifts and work several days in a row without a day off, spokesperson Elizabeth Allen said.
As it did earlier in the pandemic, the public hospital system has had to postpone non-emergency elective surgeries. But staffers are under strain — dealing with typical health emergencies like heart attacks, car wrecks and strokes as well as the COVID-19 surge.
“It’s almost like we’ve come full circle in some strange ways,” Allen said.
Karen Brooks Harper contributed to this report.