Residents line up for their COVID-19 vaccine appointments at Wonderland of the Americas mall.
Residents line up for their COVID-19 vaccine appointments at Wonderland of the Americas mall. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

On Monday, the state will make any Texan age 16 or older eligible for a COVID-19 vaccination, but Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff led a chorus of local officials Tuesday who urged the state to increase San Antonio’s supply.

In response to the state’s Tuesday announcement that Texas would join Alaska, Arizona, and Mississippi in making vaccines available to all adults, Wolff said the state would either have to boost Bexar County’s vaccine allotment, or the federal government would have to step in and provide direct allocations to local vaccine providers.

To date, Bexar County has among the highest percentages of fully vaccinated residents of Texas’ most populous counties. But Mayor Ron Nirenberg and Wolff maintain its allocations have still been disproportionately low because of how many local residents have underlying health conditions and are therefore more vulnerable to COVID-19.

So the news Tuesday was greeted with muted optimism: Officials are glad to see that more San Antonians will have the opportunity to get a vaccine, but they’ve yet to see a substantial enough increase in the local supply to voice confidence that the vaccine will be widely available.

Assistant City Manager Colleen Bridger said the City was not given any advance notice of Tuesday’s announcement. That lack of coordination from the state has been “par for the course” during the pandemic, she said. Bridger predicted residents would continue to have difficulty booking their vaccine appointments with supplies remaining scarce.

“It is going to be a continuation of the angst and anxiety associated with being eligible to be vaccinated but not being able to get an appointment as quickly as a person would prefer,” she said at a Tuesday briefing.

Another headache vaccine providers have been dealing with is an uptick in no-shows for vaccine appointments, Bridger said. A few weeks ago, the no-show rate was at 5%. Last week, vaccination sites saw a day in which 20% of people did not show up for their appointment, she said.

“If you are fortunate enough to get a COVID-19 vaccine appointment, please keep that appointment,” Bridger said. “Please come for that appointment because it’s only exacerbating the unavailability for other people.”

During the briefing, Bridger asked healthier adults to wait a month or so before scheduling their vaccine appointments and allow the city’s most vulnerable residents to get the jab first.

She said the City will begin scheduling the next month’s slate of appointments on Thursday, which means those vaccinations will exclude those who will be made newly eligible on Monday.

“We’re taking a number of steps to encourage people who are eligible this week … to be vaccinated,” she said.

Texas made the decision to widen eligibility on the recommendation of its 17-member panel of experts on vaccine allocations. The panel also appears to have been encouraged by the coming increase in vaccine supplies, with a larger-than-usual allocation expected next week. President Joe Biden has directed states to make the vaccine available to all adults by May 1.

Also expected next week is a new central online registry where Texans can sign up to receive the vaccine. The scheduler will notify registrants of upcoming vaccine appointments and clinics in their area. However, because digital signups often favor healthier, internet-savvy adults, the state has asked providers to prioritize people age 80 or older and allow them to bypass lines.

Even though the low vaccine supply continues to drive a Black Friday-esque rush (though Black Friday shoppers don’t leave stores empty-handed) that has left too many feeling helpless, I’m hopeful we’ll see a method to the organized chaos that is the state’s vaccine rollout.

Young adults are sustaining this pandemic by accounting for much of the spread. By allowing them to spread the virus unimpeded we risk undoing a year’s worth of work to end the pandemic. This quote from former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Dr. Tom Frieden stuck in my mind: “Not only does uncontrolled spread cause avoidable illness, hospitalization, and death, but it increases the risk that an even more dangerous variant may emerge that could make the vaccine less effective.”

It was only a hypothesis at first, but we now know vaccines help prevent transmission. So count me among those who see this as a positive development in Texas’ pandemic response – albeit one that brings with it its own significant challenges. As noted in my colleague Lindsey Carnett’s story, vaccine providers will likely have to manage the very delicate issue of maintaining social distancing in their clinics as older residents will be able to show up without an appointment. That’s just one of the concerns.

If you have questions about the ever-changing inoculation landscape in Texas, feel free to shoot us a note.

With 133 cases of the coronavirus reported on Tuesday, the seven-day average in Bexar County stood at 168. There were 29 new COVID-19 hospital admissions on Tuesday, an increase of 10 from Monday. A Black woman in her 40s and a Hispanic man in his 60s are now among the 3,073 residents who have succumbed to the disease. Over 15% of the Bexar County population age 16 or older has been fully vaccinated.

Here are the local coronavirus numbers as of 7 p.m. Tuesday:

  • 202,849 total cases, 133 new cases
  • 3,073 deaths, two new deaths
  • 182 in hospital
  • 72 patients in intensive care
  • 40 patients on ventilators
  • 233,463 residents fully vaccinated

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