This article has been updated.
San Antonians lined up at the Alamodome and two other locations at their appointment times Monday, the first day of operation for the mass coronavirus vaccination hubs, as countless more sought appointments.
Assistant City Manager Colleen Bridger and other City officials emphasized demand for vaccines still greatly outweighs supply and asked that residents be patient. At two WellMed locations where vaccines are also being administered, additional appointments will be available Tuesday, a spokesman said.
“We will be opening up 2,000 slots [Tuesday morning],” said Dan Calderón, vice president of communications and digital media at WellMed Medical Management. “If you can’t get through or if you get the message the system is not in use, please keep trying.”
WellMed’s phone systems went down Monday evening due to technical difficulties, but Calderón encouraged residents to call 833-968-1745 to book an appointment on Tuesday morning. Around 1 p.m. Tuesday City Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran (D3) tweeted that the phone line is still working, however anyone calling just a few hours later was met with a message that all 9,000 WellMed slots have been filled for this week.
But Mike Bergin, communications director at WellMed, said Tuesday evening that the recorded message is incorrect and that 800 appointments were still available as of about 6 p.m.
Bergin said they are working on having Carenet, the hotline operator, change the inaccurate on-hold message. Callers also might have heard a message from their phone carrier that the line is not in service, and that’s also incorrect, he said.
All of this is a result of a hotline stretched beyond capacity by a high volume of calls, Bergin said.
“It’s clunky,” Bergin said. “We’re doing the best we can, and we just ask for [people’s] patience.”
Around 3:30 p.m. on Monday, Bridger estimated in the Alamodome’s first day of operation as a vaccination hub (one of 28 across the state), nurses were on track to administer roughly 1,000 vaccinations.
Just inside the stadium’s doors, San Antonio Fire Department EMTs and San Antonio Metropolitan Health District workers in orange vests checked IDs and made sure each person had an appointment. In one area near several empty concessions stands, about 20 people were waiting.
One by one, they were called up to one of the 18 vaccination stations, where nurses administered the first dose of the Pfizer BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.
George Perez, management analyst at San Antonio Metro Health, said from parking lot to exit, the whole vaccination process takes about 45 minutes to an hour.
On Saturday morning, the City opened slots for the week’s 9,000 appointments, which filled in just six minutes.
Many San Antonio residents eligible for the vaccine expressed frustration at how quickly online appointments filled or that they were unable to get a representative on the phone when calling the City’s customer service line, 311. More than 50,000 people tried to use the website or 311 services to get an appointment within the span of 10 minutes on Saturday morning, Bridger said.
“We did learn, however, from Saturday’s experience to reserve more of our appointments through 311, and so we are making that adjustment,” she said.
Meanwhile, San Antonio’s other two new hubs, located at WellMed centers on the South and West sides, were also experiencing a flood of demand, said Calderón.
With appointments available by phone registration only, some people complained of calling continuously without success. Others tried to showed up without an appointment Monday but were turned away, Calderón said.
“We had 123,000 calls on the first day, and made appointments for 2,600,” he said. “Yesterday we had 173,000 calls and booked 810 of those into slots.”
As for vaccine supply, the Texas Department of State Health Services is in charge of vaccine distribution statewide. Each week DSHS allots who will get vaccination doses and how many.
“We’re going to continue to ask [the state] for predictability in the supply they’re providing us so we can start scheduling appointments,” said Mayor Ron Nirenberg. “If we knew how many [doses] were coming next month, and next week, and the week after that, we could go ahead and open up more appointments.”
During a press conference Monday, Gov. Greg Abbott said DSHS is pushing the federal government for as many doses of the vaccine as possible and is also working with local government leaders “to get even more doses out to Texans at an even swifter pace.”
“The only limitation that we now face is the limitation of supply,” Abbott said. “Supply of the vaccination is not something that the State of Texas is in control of; the supply of the vaccination comes only from the federal government, and for them it comes largely from the manufacturing capabilities of both Pfizer and the Moderna.”
Despite the uncertainty of available vaccine supplies, Nirenberg said he was proud to see how efficient Metro Health was moving San Antonio residents through the Alamodome.
“Nationally, if [anyone else] wants to see how it can be done, they need to come to San Antonio – we’ve got a good operation here,” he said.
Senior Reporter Brendan Gibbons contributed to this report.