Health authorities across Texas are offering residents the chance to register on a central waitlist for coronavirus vaccines, allowing them to sign up for a dose they might not get for months.
But that’s not the case in Bexar County. Assistant City Manager Colleen Bridger said this week that the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District is not developing such a waitlist because it would do little to ease the stress caused by a lack of doses overall.
“Once people are in the registry, it doesn’t relieve their anxiety,” Bridger said at a City Council meeting Thursday. “Then their anxiety turns to, ‘Well, I’m registered. When am I going to get my shot?’”
Across the U.S., a slow and chaotic ramp-up of vaccination efforts has left many scrambling for vaccines across many cities. Harris, Dallas, Tarrant, Collin, Travis, Denton, and Hays are among the populous Texas counties where health authorities allow people to pre-register for a centralized waitlist. In most cases, those who register get confirmation notices and instructions to wait for a call or email with a time, date, and location for a vaccine appointment.
“Supply is limited due to demand,” reads a notice on the vaccine site for Houston’s Harris County. “Wait times could be weeks – if not months – based on availability and distribution phases. If you have an opportunity to receive the vaccine elsewhere, please do so.
San Antonio has four mass vaccination sites for the general public, with three separate registration systems – two online and one via a telephone hotline. Once appointment availability is announced, online slots often fill within minutes and phone lines go dead as hundreds of thousands of people flood a system designed to distribute only thousands of doses per week.
Local health authorities have little sway over how many vaccine doses are supplied to San Antonio, with the Texas Department of State Health Services in charge of allocations. So far, 148,753 people in Bexar County have received one dose, with 52,856 people fully vaccinated, according to state data.
District 9 Councilman John Courage advocated for a centralized waitlist as he questioned Bridger during a council meeting Thursday.
“My wife and I have probably made 1,000 phone calls on several days trying to get our own appointments,” Courage said. “Maybe many of you haven’t had that problem, because you’re not over 65, or you don’t have the underlying health conditions. But we know there were 100,000, 200,000, 300,000 people who do have this problem and who are frustrated and want some kind of security, knowing at least, ‘I’m on the list, and I’m going to get a call when they have enough for me.’”
Bridger reminded Courage that she had already discussed it with him privately. Mayor Ron Nirenberg also had asked about a waitlist, she said.
“All of us who are doing the work are clearly communicating to you and everybody else that that is not a best practice,” Bridger said. “That is not a recommendation by us.”
Bridger served as Metro Health director from 2017 to 2019 before her promotion to assistant city manager. She resumed as interim Metro Health director in June after the departure of former director Dawn Emerick, who served in the role for six months. Bridger told Courage her stance on the waitlist “is based on conversations with other big-city health departments who have tried and abandoned registries.”
“I don’t know how to better explain why the experts who are doing this work disagree with that philosophy,” she told Courage. “But that is the case.”
Courage told Bridger he would “certainly would like to know who told you this and when they told you this.”
Nirenberg asked if Bridger would like to answer that, “or are we moving on?”
“We’re moving on,” Bridger said.
Reporter Jackie Wang contributed to this story.