Hundreds of senior citizens along with at-risk adults wait in line at the Wonderland of the Americas to be injected with the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine on Monday.
Hundreds of senior citizens along with at-risk adults waited in line at the Wonderland of the Americas to be injected with the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine on Monday. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Happy New Year. A lot has happened in the dawning days of 2021.

Including the fact that about 60 percent of the Bexar County population now has occasion to get the vaccine – although supply is clearly not meeting the current demand – with last week’s announcement by the state that folks in Phase 1B, adults 65 and older and adults with chronic conditions, are now among the priority groups.

On Thursday (New Year’s Eve), the University Health System became the first health care provider in the area to offer public signup for the newly eligible residents. Within five hours of the web-based registration system coming online, all appointments were booked.

I know because I saw it happen.

Although I’m 34 years young, I fall into Phase 1B because of an underlying health condition. So about an hour or so after filing my story on the availability of the vaccine, and after I was done with the brunt of my most pressing assignments that evening, I decided to sign up for an appointment.

After filling in my name and personal details I was asked to select a date and appointment window. But my first few attempts prompted error messages, and each time, dates and time slots would disappear. I was eventually successful, securing an appointment on the last day vaccinations were to be given in this initial round of shots for 1B-eligible folks.

Just a few minutes later, I noticed the clickable appointment windows had vanished.

The next day, the signup page said no more appointments were available because of an “overwhelming response.”

“We will open up more slots as soon as we get more vaccine and let you know through our social media and local news outlets,” it read. “Please continue to stay safe.”

Hours before the turn of the new year, I experienced a wave of emotions no doubt felt across the nation as people get the jab – excitement at the prospect of immunization punctuated by pangs of guilt over getting in before older, perhaps more medically compromised people.

But if you speak to any public health expert or epidemiologist they’ll tell you about the logistical and clerical challenges distributing a vaccine to the whole of America can pose, especially with subzero-temperature storage requirements for one of the approved vaccines – not to mention the state’s unexpectedly hurried initialization of Phase 1B.

As local epidemiologist Cherise Rohr-Allegrini put it, “If you get called up, get it. No one should be ashamed to get it. It’s not noble to step aside.”

Herd immunity is, as the name suggests, a numbers game. The more vaccines administered, the closer we are to community protection. Even with the distribution challenges we’ve seen throughout the country and a slower-than-hoped-for rollout, it’s (and I don’t use this word often in my writing) awesome to see such fervent interest in the vaccine, especially when national polls just weeks earlier revealed a skeptical public. Seeing our neighbors getting vaccinated should elate us – their immunity means one fewer kink in the chain and takes a small step closer to the end of this pandemic.

The people who use their privilege to jump the proverbial vaccination line are less of a concern to me than the Prosecco-bottle-popping, bar-scene-crowding younger adults who ignore the health protocols. These are the people largely contributing to the heightened transmissibility of the virus. They’re ultimately passing it onto relatives, essential workers, or others they encounter on their thoughtless excursions.

It’s why we have almost 1,300 in the hospital right now and a positive test rate approaching 25 percent. With 23.2 percent of those tested turning up positive last week, the virus is as present in Bexar County as it was during the July peak.

I am vacillating between being worried about what’s to come in the short term – perhaps a surge on top of a surge that piggybacked on another one with New Year’s gatherings yet unaccounted for – and feeling hope for the middle and long term, but the optimism is most certainly winning out. Better days are ahead. Of that I am sure.

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

  • 122,648 total cases, 1,057 new cases
  • 1,569 deaths, seven new deaths
  • 1,259 in hospital, 12% beds available
  • 342 patients in intensive care
  • 186 patients on ventilators, 48% ventilators available

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