This article has been updated.
Cherise Rohr-Allegrini was grocery shopping at Central Market when a H-E-B pharmacy technician asked if she’d been vaccinated against COVID-19. Rohr-Allegrini, a local epidemiologist, replied that she had.
The pharmacy had extra doses it didn’t want to go to waste, and no one signed up to take them. Supply in San Antonio is now outweighing demand, Rohr-Allegrini said.
It’s a trend providers across the city are also keenly aware of. The city’s vaccination hubs have seen a decrease in demand and an increase in appointment no-shows, Mayor Ron Nirenberg told the San Antonio Report Wednesday.
The City of San Antonio has been preparing for this drop in demand for weeks, Nirenberg said. Discussions about the pandemic have been daily since last March, but City officials knew it would get to a point where the city has enough supply, and “the gears shift very quickly,” Nirenberg said.
“We have been discussing [that] at some point hesitancy will rear its head,” he said. “We’re going to have more supply than we have demand, and we’ve got to generate the demand in order to keep our forecasts steady towards herd immunity.”
Hesitancy is probably only one of the reasons demand has dropped, Rohr-Allegrini said. Another part of the puzzle is lack of access, time, and transportation in low-income neighborhoods, she said.
Whereas more affluent communities are more likely to have an easier time securing free time and transportation to a vaccine clinic, underserved communities do not, she said.
“The average 70-year-old on the West Side isn’t going to be at Central Market shopping today,” Rohr-Allegrini said. Many still need to be vaccinated, she said; about a third of the county’s population has been vaccinated, but that leaves two-thirds still unvaccinated. “Clearly, there’s still a need out there, but it’s a matter of how are we getting it into the population?”
To address the issue, the City announced the launch of a new campaign Thursday afternoon during a Community Health and Equity Committee meeting. The campaign formally launched at the start of the month, said Laura Mayes, City spokeswoman. The campaign focuses on educating San Antonio residents about the vaccines as well as bringing the shots into underserved communities.
The campaign is the result of a joint effort between Giant Noise, MM Creative, and Left Brain + Right Brain with the City and the Metro Health District.
“What we’re doing is creating a targeted call to action,” MM Creative consultant Marta Martinez said during the meeting.
The City will place ads in print, radio, and TV news outlets, Martinez said. Ads will be delivered in both English and Spanish, she said.
They will run during peak hours and will be purchased with funds from federal grants, Metro Health Marketing Manager Sonia Gonzales said.
Additional efforts will include buying billboard advertisements, passing out door hangers and flyers, placing yard signs at city parks, and sending mass texts. The City has secured advertising within kiosks inside Walmart stores on the West and South sides, within video jukeboxes that exist in clubs around town, and a “video truck” that drives around playing videos and showing still images, Gonzales said.
The City is working with local celebrities such as musician Little Joe y La Familia and R&B TikTok sensation Simply Rayne, who are putting out pro-vaccine messaging to their own followers, as well as holding free paleta events in local parks to inform at-risk communities about vaccine benefits, Martinez said. Additional ads on social media will work to target specific groups, said Jeremy Roberts, founder and CEO of Left Brain + Right Brain.
Mobile vaccine clinics in underserved areas will also aim to drive vaccine demand up.
“We need to get to communities that have greater challenges to access to transportation and mobility,” he said. “I think we have to start shifting more to the mobile site resources and … garner appeal from peers to their peers to get vaccinated.”
Residents aren’t coming to the mass vaccination sites like they were earlier, said Colleen Bridger, assistant city manager and San Antonio’s lead official on the pandemic response, during the City Council’s Thursday meeting.
“Now that the supply has caught up with the demand, we want to make getting your COVID-19 vaccination as easy as possible,” Bridger said in a City press release earlier this week. “We recognize that for some people it is easier to just pop in rather than make an appointment, and we wanted to accommodate that preference.”
Residents ages 16 and older can now get a COVID-19 vaccination without an appointment from noon to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays at the drive-thru vaccination site at the Alamodome, the City said.
Private providers seek solutions
Private providers are launching campaigns of their own.
UT Health San Antonio saw about 4% no-shows for vaccine appointments last week, said Dr. Michael Charlton, assistant vice president for risk management and safety at the UT Health Science Center. While Charlton notes that is still significantly low, it is higher than a few weeks ago.
“UT Health operates one of the vaccine superhubs in Bexar County, and UT Health has seen a decline in the number of patients that are seeking vaccination from our large COVID-19 vaccine hub over the past week or so,” Charlton said. “We have seen a decline in the total number of people that are seeking vaccinations.”
In response to this, UT Health is also launching a social media campaign, accepting walk-ups for appointments, and deploying mobile clinics, Charlton said.
Those looking to get vaccinated can go to the UT Health San Antonio School of Nursing Hurd Auditorium at 7703 Floyd Curl Drive from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily.
For this week, the San Antonio-based Gonzaba Medical Group was allotted 2,500 Moderna doses, said Dr. Alexandra Castro Peña. As of Thursday afternoon, Gonzaba still had 500 doses left, Castro Peña said.
“I need people to show up,” she said. “Otherwise they are going to go bad, and we are going to have to discard them and that would be super sad.”
Gonzaba sent out a press release Thursday that it will be administering Moderna vaccines to anyone eligible for a vaccination between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. on Friday.
To combat the drop in demand, University Health is implementing several strategies including a social media campaign that aims to address the myths or false information that may be causing vaccine hesitancy, Public Relations Manager Shelley Kofler said.
“We are going to use the stories of former COVID patients and those with long COVID to underscore the dangers of not getting vaccinated,” she said. “Our social media manager is working on communicating through those platforms.”
UHS also has a post-COVID recovery program that assesses patients suffering lingering health issues. Many of these patients are “really suffering” and “want to encourage others to protect themselves by getting vaccinated,” Kofler said.
“We hope some of those stories break through whatever reluctance the naysayers have,” she said.
Correction: The parties who collaborated to launch the campaign were not all properly identified. This article has been updated to reflect all parties who helped launch the city campaign.