Twelve-year-old Evan Brewer was one of only a handful of people who showed up at a vaccination pop-up clinic at The Witte Museum on Tuesday asking for the COVID-19 shot.
Evan came to one of three sites sponsored by San Antonio Metropolitan Health District with Patricia and Craig Brewer, who wanted their grandson vaccinated before an upcoming road trip to California.
They almost backed out.
“He’s a 12-year-old kid — you get scared,” said Craig Brewer, who got the injection in January. “It’s something new … I was scared when I got mine.”
In the end, his grandparents decided the shot was better than the possibility Evan could become infected with the virus and fall ill while the family is on their first vacation since before the pandemic began.
As he sat in a room just past the museum’s “Extreme Creatures” exhibit, Evan said the only thing that worried him about the vaccine was the needle. But then he shrugged it off: “It’s just like other shots I’ve taken.”
The COVID-19 vaccine, available to the general public since January, has been shown to prevent severe illness, hospitalization, and death from the virus. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends vaccination for everyone age 12 and older. With an troubling rise in cases and hospitalizations due to the more contagious delta variant, local officials are now literally pleading for unvaccinated residents to get the jab.
In San Antonio, 62.5% of residents are fully vaccinated and 75.5% have received one dose of the two-dose vaccine regimen, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services. Though that’s slightly higher than the U.S. population overall, it remains below the 70% fully-vaccinated threshold experts say is needed to stave off another surge in the pandemic.
In an effort to reach more people, the city is hosting a number of vaccination clinics across the city providing shots to anyone aged 12 and older without an appointment.
More than six months into the nationwide vaccination effort, the popup clinics are small-scale compared to the vast lines of cars that formed at the Alamodome earlier this year when vaccinations first became available.
At the pop-up vaccination sites operating Saturday and Sunday, 323 people were vaccinated, according to Metro Health.
Anita Kurian, assistant director of Metro Health, said San Antonio’s vaccination rate has “dramatically decreased” over the past few months.
“We believe that people who were eager to get vaccinated have already gotten vaccinated, so now what we are encountering is vaccine apathy combined with vaccine hesitancy,” she said. “Now it’s up to us to take vaccines to people where they are.”
The pop-ups are intended to make it more convenient and accessible than a mass vaccination site such as the Alamodome.
Yet convenience isn’t the only barrier. A CDC survey found more than 10% of Bexar County residents said they would probably not or definitely not get vaccinated. Mistrust and misinformation back that hesitancy, Kurian said, calling the recent surge in infections and hospitalizations a “pandemic of the unvaccinated.”
At a recent town hall hosted by Children’s Hospital of San Antonio, one medical expert in vaccine development tried to dispel myths about the vaccine and urge people to roll up their sleeves.
“If you look at the history of vaccines, we really haven’t seen long-term effects that pop up years later — that really hasn’t happened,” said Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and co-Director of the Texas Children’s Center for Vaccine Development.
While the COVID-19 vaccine is a new technology, and scientists can’t say for certain there won’t be long-term effects, Hotez said, “What I can tell you is that COVID-19 can ruin your life for a long long time.”
Not only are the symptoms from the virus potentially debilitating, the evidence of long-term injury from COVID-19 far exceeds anything from the vaccine, he added. “Now is the time to get vaccinated, especially ahead of the school year.”
On Tuesday, a pop-up clinic at the San Antonio International Airport was steady with people lining up for the vaccine. Just over 100 people had rolled up their sleeves by noon that day, and with each wave of travelers and airline workers entering the baggage claim area, more lined up, suitcases in tow.
Providing the vaccine to arriving passengers is an effort to protect the community, said Alex Chong, senior management analyst at Metro Health. The airport pop-up has been vaccinating slightly more than 100 people a day since it started, but was prepared to administer 200 doses a day.
Chong said people are given a choice between the Pfizer or one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine; most choose the Pfizer.
San Antonio residents Josana Lopez, her sister and father went to the airport for their second dose of the Pfizer vaccine.
“We just waited [until now] because it is easier and because we were taking care of ourselves up to that point — always wearing masks, not going out to lunch unless we had to — so we didn’t really see the need,” said Lopez, a 20-year-old student at the University of Texas at San Antonio.
“Then since it became a lot more available, it was like, ‘why not?’”
About 100,000 San Antonio residents have not gotten their second dose of the vaccine, Kurian said. This week, Metro Health began sending reminder postcards to those people and plans to do another push during National Immunization Awareness Month in August.
At the airport pop-up, Genoveva, who didn’t want to give her last name, of Colima, Mexico, said she was arriving in San Antonio to visit a friend for a few days, and though she’d already received one dose of the CanSino Biologics version of the COVID-19 vaccine, she wanted to get the Pfizer for better protection. She plans to fly to the city again in a few weeks for her second dose.
“I feel happy because it is like another passport for me,” she said.