With the vaccine supply growing, public health officials will look to reach out to communities that voice hesitancy over getting the shot.
With the vaccine supply growing, public health officials will look to reach out to communities that voice hesitancy over getting the shot. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

The COVID-19 vaccine is suddenly more available than it’s ever been.

Notwithstanding the rare side effects linked with the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine that paused its administration and prompted a federal inquiry, doses of the vaccine are in such abundance that shot seekers are no longer having to jostle for position on faulty and prone-to-crashing websites to book their appointments.

University Health, where I got vaccinated by appointment earlier this year, is as of Thursday administering walk-up vaccinations (a limited number each day from Monday through Friday). Go to the hospital system’s website for more information.

A vaccine drive is in progress at Burleson Yard Beer Garden on the City’s near East side as I write and will be until 9 p.m. Thursday.

Oh, and the City of San Antonio rolled out its vaccine waitlist (prioritized for residents age 65 or older) this week. You can sign up here.

The vaccine rollout is going so well, it may not even matter if the Johnson & Johnson shot is permanently halted.

So the focus, at least locally, is beginning to shift toward addressing vaccine hesitancy.

Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Calvert (Pct. 4) made a rare appearance Thursday on the nightly coronavirus briefing. Calvert, who is Black, addressed some of the vaccine hesitancy he said he has seen among the African-American community. Some of it is understandable, he said, given the medical community’s past breaches of ethics in treating Black Americans.

But he made a plea on Thursday to Black San Antonians to get vaccinated, saying many of his family members have been inoculated and have been doing well.

“Everybody’s doing fine,” he said. “I haven’t grown a third eye, as you can see.”

Though much has been said about vaccine hesitancy among people of color, it is actually white Republican men who are declining the shot more than any other demographic, according to polling from the Texas Tribune.

Vaccine hesitancy is one of the country’s biggest threats in this phase of its pandemic response. If not enough people trust the vaccine or too many choose to forgo immunization, the coronavirus will likely remain present in many American communities.

I haven’t seen evidence this segment of the population is significant enough to derail the vaccine rollout, but I recently caught my first whiff of it while I was in the checkout line of a major pharmacy retailer. A security guard at the store told a cashier, presumably after she had asked him if he’d been vaccinated, that he was a “conspiracy theorist” who believed the vaccine was some sort of New World Order scheme actually designed to make people sick.

As a journalist, I feel a responsibility to speak up in those situations even if it’s usually my nature to avoid confrontation. Unfortunately, I was stymied by my introversion. But I’ve thought about what to say the next time I encounter a vaccine skeptic. I just hope there are very few because we don’t have much time to change hearts and minds.

JJ Velasquez

JJ Velasquez

JJ Velasquez was a columnist, former editor and reporter at the San Antonio Report.