More than 11,000 people tried to sign up for coronavirus vaccinations when registrations opened at 9 a.m. Saturday, filling all available slots and overloading the City of San Antonio’s website.
It took only six minutes for residents to sign up for all 9,000 available appointments this week at the Alamodome, one of the four mass vaccination sites currently set up to distribute San Antonio’s share of vaccines from the Texas Department of State Health Services.
“The registration system worked as designed, but there is far greater demand than supply at this time,” Assistant City Manager Colleen Bridger said in a prepared statement. “When we receive more doses from the State of Texas, we will have more appointments available in the coming days and weeks, and we will keep the public informed about registration opportunities.”
Michelle Vigil, spokeswoman for the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District, said the Metro Health officials will announce the availability to make more appointments once they receive confirmation about new vaccine shipments from the State.
“If we announce and something changes, rescheduling thousands of appointments will not be easy,” Vigil said.
Under State guidelines, those eligible for vaccines are frontline health care workers, residents of long-term care facilities, anyone age 65 or older, and anyone 16 years of age or older with at least one chronic medical condition that puts them at increased risk of serious illness from COVID-19. Such conditions include, but are not limited to, cancer, kidney disease, COPD, heart conditions, obesity, pregnancy, sickle cell disease, or Type 2 diabetes.
Health officials have stressed that they want an equitable rollout of the vaccine, however Saturday’s issues highlight the logistical challenges in the early weeks of the largest mass vaccination campaign in generations.
A City news release Saturday claimed its webpage for registrations and its 311 system “experienced high volumes of use but withstood the traffic.” However, multiple people told the San Antonio Report they were not able to access the site shortly after 9 a.m.
San Antonio resident Gail Gallegos told the San Antonio Report via email that she tried to register online for her 40-year-old daughter, who suffers from multiple health conditions. Gallegos said she couldn’t access the registration website until around 9:30 a.m., at which time she learned all available slots had been booked. She also tried calling the City’s hotline and 311 but was never able to get a person on the other end.
“I feel very frustrated with no ability to understand or resolve the situation,” Gallegos said.
At noon Saturday, the City’s website was online, along with its COVID-19 hotline, 210-207-5779. A recorded message stated that all vaccination appointments have been filled.
For those who were able to make appointments, the City’s Alamodome site will on Monday begin vaccinating approximately 1,500 people per day. University Health, another mass vaccine distributor, saw its 17,820 available doses spoken for within five hours.
As of noon Saturday, no registrations are available via University Health, which is using Wonderland of the Americas mall as its distribution site.
Also on Saturday, officials announced new mass vaccination sites at WellMed centers on the South and West sides. These sites are available for phone registrations only at 833-968-1745.
However, while they won’t be verifying where callers live, officials stressed at a Saturday press conference that the WellMed sites are intended for the most vulnerable Southside and Westside residents who lack internet access and other advantages. The sites were intended to complement other mass vaccination sites that are easier to access for those who aren’t in poverty.
“If you’ve got transportation … if you’ve got reliable internet, please try to use Wonderland Mall or try to use the Alamodome,” said WellMed Senior Vice President Jimmie Keenan, a retired major general and former chief of the Army Nurse Corps. “You have got to think of your neighbor and ask, ‘Do I want to drive from the north part of San Antonio and take an immunization away from somebody who doesn’t have the ability to go to Wonderland Mall or the Alamodome?’”