One week into the San Antonio-area coronavirus vaccine waitlist launch, officials said more than 4,300 people have added their names to the waitlist.
But an overwhelming majority of the registrants are younger than 65 even though the waitlist was devised primarily to help older adults book appointments.
As of Thursday afternoon, 4,363 people signed up for the coronavirus vaccine waitlist, Hopkins told members of the City Council’s Community Health and Equity Committee on Thursday. However, vaccine providers have contacted 4,232 of those registrants and consequently removed them from the list.
Though the program has been operating smoothly, Hopkins said the participation was lower than he expected.
“At this point, it’s really just about [vaccine] demand and supply,” Hopkins said.
The City officially launched its community coronavirus vaccine waitlist on April 14, although Hopkins said staff was testing the program quietly in the days beforehand to locate any bugs. The pilot program was approved by City Council in March, and San Antonio enlisted the help of HASA, a San Antonio-based health information organization, to create the registry system.
City staff intended the waitlist to first target residents 65 and older, but did not limit people outside of that age range from signing up. So far, 92% of the people who registered their information on the vaccine waitlist have been younger than 65, Hopkins said. Because of that, he recommended that the pilot program be expanded to include people of all ages.
Hopkins also said there should be more deliberate efforts to attract people to use the vaccine waitlist and make them aware of the opportunity.
“We should also talk about ways to drive more demand,” he said. “I will tell you that I had a lunch bet with [HASA CEO Phil Beckett] and his team that we’d get 50,000 names really fast, based on what we saw with our appointment scheduling. That hasn’t happened.”
That doesn’t mean the program can’t prioritize older people or people in certain zip codes, Hopkins said.
“I do think we need to continue to prioritize our vulnerable populations,” Hopkins said. “We have the opportunity to pull subsets of names off of [the waitlist] if we need to – whether you have access to the internet, if you want a specific age range, even zip code data if you want to.”
So far, three vaccine providers have made use of the waitlist, Hopkins said. UT Health San Antonio pulled 2,787 names, WellMed pulled 1,292, and University Health pulled 153 names to schedule vaccine appointments. UT Health has scheduled about 20% of the people it got from the waitlist so far, while WellMed has scheduled about 10%, HASA CEO Phil Beckett said.
Most people registered for the vaccine waitlist using the City’s webpage, although 8% did so by calling 311. And 11% of the people who signed up for the waitlist online did so using the Spanish-language page.
“I’m very glad to see that people actually used it in the Spanish language, and I think that just goes to show it may be a small percentage, but for those people, it could mean life or death or the safety of their families,” Councilwoman Ana Sandoval (D7) said. “Everyone counts, so thank you much for making sure that that happened.”
Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales (D5) joined her fellow committee members in praising staff for launching the waitlist program but pointed out the community’s demand for vaccines seems to be waning as supply increases. Assistant City Manager Colleen Bridger, who has been overseeing the City’s pandemic response, confirmed Gonzales’ observation.
“All four mass vaccination sites have more appointments than we have people to fill them,” she said. “So we’re all talking about what to do about that – how do we start to withdraw from the mass vaccination model and move more towards the community pop-up model? Because we need to make it easier for people to come back.”
But even as the region pulls back on its mass vaccination sites and pivots to using smaller vaccine providers, the waitlist still has value, Hopkins said. The program, which is connected with the mass vaccination providers in the San Antonio region, can work with smaller providers as well.
“Even if our primary objective is to ask people to go directly to the providers when there are vaccines are available … we always have this as an alternative,” he said. “If you don’t know where to go or you feel you can’t get into someone, your name can be on this waitlist.”
People interested in signing up for the community vaccine waitlist can do so here.