More than 206,000 doses of the coronavirus vaccine have been administered in Bexar County so far, Assistant City Manager Colleen Bridger said at a Thursday City Council meeting. But based on the data that the City has from its four mass vaccination sites, a significant portion has gone to people living in the northern sector of Bexar County.
That disparity gave Councilwoman Adriana Rocha Garcia (D4) pause as she looked at the vaccine distribution map on the same screen as a map of coronavirus deaths that showed a higher incidence of coronavirus-related deaths in the southern sector of the city.
Though she applauded the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District for its vaccination outreach efforts to high-risk communities, Garcia said the two maps paint a sobering picture.
“I still think that there’s an opportunity for some additional work,” she said. “We have to do better. And that map proves that we have to still do better.”
Bridger promised to share an updated vaccine distribution map each week with Council members. There are currently four mass vaccination sites open to the general public: the Alamodome, Wonderland of the Americas Mall, WellMed Lopez, and WellMed Cisneros. The four hubs have given out more than 100,000 doses so far. Though UT Health was named a major vaccine hub in January, it is focusing on inoculating its own faculty, staff, and patients.
Councilman Clayton Perry (D10) was absent Thursday, following a positive coronavirus test result and hospital stay earlier this week. He is currently recovering at home, according to spokeswoman Landry Stafford.
City Manager Erik Walsh also gave an overview of a new vaccination effort to reach some of San Antonio’s most at-risk residents. Members of the San Antonio Fire Department began administering coronavirus vaccines to homebound seniors, identified based on residency with a San Antonio Housing Authority facility or through Meals on Wheels, at the beginning of the week. The program aims to vaccinate older people who are unable to travel to one of the mass vaccination sites. By Saturday, firefighters will have given out 1,000 doses to this population.
“That came about because I got a call from the state last week asking if we could pull together a plan quickly to vaccinate 1,000 homebound seniors,” Walsh said. “The fire department has done a great job. And, hopefully, we stay poised and prepared to respond to phone calls like that. Until supply increases, we will take advantage of every opportunity.”
About 13% of the vaccinations administered at the four mass vaccination sites in the county have gone to out-of-town visitors, Bridger said. Under the state’s direction, vaccines are available to any Texas resident. Relatively few people have come from out-of-state, she said, but the vaccination sites have begun asking for proof of Texas residency.
“We originally were told by the state that we could not turn away anybody from anywhere,” she said. “We have since gotten clarification that we can actually limit it just to people who live in Texas.”
Bridger noted that Metro Health did consider asking for proof of a qualifying health condition from people under the age of 65 looking to be vaccinated at the Alamodome, but ultimately decided against it.
“This is a mass event,” she said. “We need to get as many people in and out of there quickly as possible and we were finding some delays as a result of this kind of second layer of verification. To a large extent, for the entire mass vaccination effort, we have to rely on the integrity and honesty of the people who live here and who are coming to get vaccinated and the vast majority of people are [honest].”
Councilman John Courage (D9) asked why the San Antonio area had not established a centralized registry for people wanting the vaccine.
“People are frustrated, they’re uncertain, and insecure,” Courage said, referring to how quickly vaccine appointments get filled. “And that’s why we need a citywide registry. If people are provided the security of knowing that they’re on a registry that is tied to the Metro Health Department and the COVID-19 Health Team, they’ll feel secure about getting the vaccine in their due time.”
Bridger said the current method where people sign up for a vaccine appointment at certain providers is thought by health workers to be much better than a centralized registry. The decision against creating a registry for San Antonio is “based on conversations with other big city health departments who have tried and abandoned registries.”
“It’s not a technological challenge, it’s a psychological challenge,” she said. “Once people are in the registry, it doesn’t relieve their anxiety. Then their anxiety turns to, ‘Well, I’m registered. When am I going to get my shot?’”
The problem stems primarily from people misunderstanding the purpose of a registry, Bridger explained.
“People don’t understand that they can be in a registry for 4, 5, 6 months before they get vaccinated,” Bridger said. “And so it is a short-term balm on a wound that continues to fester.”
The real issue comes from supply – there simply aren’t enough doses to vaccinate everyone who wants a vaccine, Bridger said. Soon, however, more private pharmacies will be getting their own doses, according to the White House. That will add to the region’s supply.
“We will be sharing our priority census tract map with those private pharmacies and encouraging them to select locations that are within those priority census tracts for either their brick and mortar sites or their mobile sites,” Bridger said.