This story has been updated.

University Health plans to open its Wonderland of the Americas Mall mass vaccination on Friday morning for people eligible to receive a coronavirus vaccine booster.

The Federal Drug Administration released new guidance on Wednesday allowing booster shots of the Pfizer vaccine for people ages 65 and older and people 18 and older that are at high risk of a severe COVID-19 or who are at high risk of contracting the virus.

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advisory panel concurred in part Thursday, omitting boosters for those with “frequent institutional or occupational exposure” to the virus, such as teachers and health care workers. Hours later, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky approved the recommendation along with boosters for those at increased risk because of their jobs, according to news reports.

Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said Thursday that the Wonderland of the Americas vaccine location would be open for as long as there seemed to be vaccine demand.

“I know they’re going to get at least one customer because I’m going to go over there and get my booster shot,” Wolff said.

The booster shot guidance comes after the Bexar County region saw 52,585 new COVID cases in August — more than three times the new cases in July, Mayor Ron Nirenberg said. Local officials also reported 22 new deaths on Thursday, bringing the overall death count to 4,314.

Younger people are also being more seriously affected by the coronavirus, according to Nirenberg. Last month, 12.5% of COVID patients in hospitals were children 9 years old or younger, while children that age made up only 7.6% of all cases.

“The virus is hitting young people harder,” Nirenberg said.

On Thursday, officials reported 571 new COVID-19 cases. Area hospitals reported 820 COVID-19 patients, 25 of whom were children. Of those hospitalized, 289 were in intensive care and 158 were on ventilators.

As local officials concentrate on improving vaccination rates, Metro Health Director Claude Jacob pointed out that the region’s positivity rate has been trending downward for six weeks. It now sits at 4.9%, down from 7.1% the prior week. And among those currently hospitalized for COVID-19, 80% of them are unvaccinated.

“That is the same narrative that we can see from coast to coast,” he told members of the City Council Community Health, Equity, and Culture Committee on Thursday. “It is this group that’s creating additional pressures for our area hospitals.”

In Bexar County, 1.2 million residents are fully vaccinated, while 1.48 million have received at least one dose. That represents 73.4% and 88.7% of the eligible population, respectively; children under the age of 12 still cannot be vaccinated against the coronavirus.

To encourage people to get the vaccine, San Antonio Metropolitan Health District will begin distributing H-E-B gift cards at their vaccine clinics on Friday. People can receive the $100 gift cards only at a Metro Health vaccine location, including the Alamodome. Fully vaccinated people and people seeking a booster shot are not eligible for the H-E-B gift card.

“We’re going to be strict about following — as we always are — what the CDC recommends,” said Dr. Junda Woo, Metro Health’s medical director.

Metro Health workers will be checking immunization status in the state database to verify when people received their first dose and if they received a second, she said.

The Alamodome is now open from noon to 8 p.m. Wednesday through Friday to accommodate more people. No appointments are necessary. The Alamodome will not give out booster shots until next Wednesday, Sept. 29.

Jackie Wang

Jackie Wang is the local government reporter at the San Antonio Report.