Back of the line, San Antonio.

San Antonians desperate for COVID-19 vaccinations may soon wish they lived in Dallas-Fort Worth or Houston, where announced plans to establish three vaccination “super sites” mean residents there will fare far better in protecting themselves against the deadly coronavirus, which has killed more than 40,000 Texans.

Bexar County has seen 2,670 COVID-19-related deaths, according to Texas Department of State Health Services tracking. City of San Antonio Metro Health figures, which lag behind the state’s count, place the fatality count at 2,397.

Gaining an advantage in vaccinating its adult populations means Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston, the state’s two largest metro areas, will eventually lead the way on reopening and economic recovery while other parts of the state play catch-up.

News of the three super sites was first announced Wednesday by Gov. Greg Abbott via Twitter. A site at Fair Park in Dallas will serve that city, while Arlington’s AT&T Stadium will serve Fort Worth and other metroplex cities, and NRG Stadium will serve Houston and its suburbs. The three sites are expected to vaccinate 10,000 people per day.

“These mass community sites will allow us to expand access to COVID-19 vaccinations in underserved communities and help us mitigate the spread of the virus,” Abbott said in a statement. “Thank you to our partners at FEMA for working with the state of Texas to establish these vaccination sites and help us protect our most vulnerable.”

Abbott did not say why Dallas-Fort Worth is getting two sites while San Antonio and Austin were excluded. At its current rate of vaccination, Bexar County, with a population of 2 million, is unlikely to see its adult population protected before late 2021, if then.

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The super site selection belies the many promises federal and state authorities have made to ensure that minority populations are accorded equal access to vaccine supplies. Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth have significant Black, Hispanic, and immigrant populations, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Social Vulnerability Index (SVI) rates San Antonio as home to the state’s most at-risk population among the major metro areas. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) officials had previously stated the agency would use the CDC’s SVI in deciding where to locate super sites.

A map of the Social Vulnerability Index (SVI) in Texas.
A map of the Social Vulnerability Index (SVI) in Texas. Credit: Courtesy / Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

At this point, South Texas and the border region will be left waiting. Local officials from El Paso to Laredo to the Rio Grande Valley are decrying a lack of vaccine supplies. Many South and Central Texas residents, unable to obtain vaccinations, have traveled to San Antonio to do so.

“Fifteen percent of the vaccinations administered in San Antonio have gone to people who do not live in Bexar County,” said San Antonio Assistant City Manager Colleen Bridger, who oversees Metro Health.

San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg said Friday that the Alamodome’s vaccination center will close if increased vaccine supplies are not delivered promptly. The last shipments for use there arrived weeks ago. The threatened closure comes one week after the National Football League offered its venues, including AT&T Stadium in Arlington and NRG Stadium in Houston, as venues for FEMA’s planned super sites.

An internal City of San Antonio Metro Health report distributed Friday reported that 186,059 people have received first doses, and 74,559 have received both doses. Those numbers include vaccines administered at the Alamodome by the City, by University Health at Wonderland of the Americas mall, and by WellMed at the Elva Cisneros Senior Community Center and the Alicia Treviño López Senior Community Center. University Health officials announced the 100,000th dose was administered at the mall Friday afternoon.

UT Health San Antonio is independently administering 5,500 dosages a day.

FEMA officials have been less forthcoming with information about the planned super sites. The latest press release posted on the agency’s site is dated Feb. 8 and announces the formation of a COVID-19 Civil Rights Advisory Group, whose members are not named, to ensure equitable vaccine distribution across the country. The latest posting on FEMA’s Twitter account is a generic one dated Jan. 25.

Bottom line: People are dying every day here and across the state, and the inability of vaccine manufacturers, FEMA, and state authorities to accelerate the delivery of adequate supplies to San Antonio and other localities is extending the life of the pandemic and its impact on the economy and just about every aspect of daily life.

No one here would fault the governor for rethinking his plans and announcing the transfer of one super site to the Alamodome.

Robert Rivard

Robert Rivard

Robert Rivard is editor of the San Antonio Report.