A sign points towards the immunization clinic at the Metro Health Building.
A sign points towards Metro Health's immunization clinic. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

The San Antonio Metropolitan Health District is expanding its vaccination efforts to address concerns about the impact of COVID-19 combined with the upcoming flu season. 

But expanding the effort amid a pandemic has been complicated due to social distancing measures and as safety measures at doctor’s offices have heightened to limit contact, said Sarah Williams, who works with Metro Health’s immunization program. 

There are 156 providers that work with Metro Health to provide vaccines for children going back to school, “and we really want to promote that it’s safe and important to access preventative care” at this time, Williams said Friday at a City Council Health and Equity Committee meeting. “Everyone above the age of 6 months should be getting a flu vaccine.”

Flu vaccinations are especially important for those at a higher risk of complications from both flu and coronavirus, including adults over 65 years old, those with underlying illnesses like asthma or heart disease, pregnant women, caretakers who are exposed to vulnerable groups, and essential workers. 

Growing concern over the combined impact of the two viruses has led to vaccine mandates in some states. The University of California system announced this month that it would require all its employees and students to get a flu shot by Nov. 1. And Massachusetts is requiring all residents between 6 months and 30 years old to get the flu shot by the end of the year.

While Bexar County schools aren’t requiring students and staff to obtain flu shots, it’s highly recommended, Williams said, and vaccination outreach programs will go to area campuses to ensure that people can easily get the vaccine. 

More than 50 flu clinic events are planned with community partners throughout San Antonio, a number that will hopefully increase in the coming weeks, Williams said. Several of the events will be drive-thru flu shot sites that will have the capacity to provide vaccinations to large numbers of people. 

But Metro Health only provides about 2 percent of the flu vaccines available in the Bexar County area, said Assistant Director Anita Kurian. Most people get flu vaccines through physicians offices or urgent care centers.

Getting flu shots to those who need it is part of a larger plan to coordinate immunizations with area providers and community organizations so once a COVID-19 vaccine becomes available a plan will be in place to get it distributed, Williams said. 

The City Council Health and Equity Committee will discuss the COVID-19 vaccination plan at its next meeting on Sept. 4. 

Vaccines provided through Metro Health are free to anyone under the age of 18 years old, and Metro Health has another 6,600 doses available for people 18 and over.

Most major insurance companies and Affordable Care Act providers categorize flu shots as preventive care benefits, and patients can receive them at no cost.

Most Walgreens, CVS, and H-E-B pharmacies have walk-in availability to obtain flu shots during regular pharmacy hours, and many are currently offering flu shots. Without insurance, it may cost up to $45, depending on the provider.

Roseanna Garza reports on health and bioscience for the San Antonio Report.