SAN ANTONIO – With all Texans 50 years old and over now eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, the pool of people anxiously looking for appointments has grown larger.
While many Bexar County residents have had to rely on luck and good timing to snag a coveted spot at one of the mass vaccination sites, some have wondered if there’s a better way. On Tuesday, one alternative will come up again - the creation of a vaccine registry or waitlist.
The city council’s Community Health and Equity Committee is scheduled to meet at 3 p.m. Tuesday. While a vaccine waitlist is not on the official agenda, it is expected to be discussed.
As described by District 9 Councilman John Courage, who has been the driving force behind the idea, people would be able to provide their information in a registry that vaccine providers could pull names from to schedule appointments. Courage sees it as a better alternative to residents trying week after week to snag a limited number of appointments on their own, often having to call hundreds of times.
Courage believes getting their name on a list would help give people the peace of mind that they will get a shot at some point.
“Hundreds of thousands of people have no idea when they’re going to get a shot,” Courage told KSAT.
The District 9 councilman brought up the registry idea at least twice in February city council meetings. On Feb. 18, though, he failed to get it through the rest of the council, which voted down the creation of a central registry in a 7-4 vote, with at least one council member citing the opinion of the city’s COVID-19 pandemic czar, Assistant City manager Colleen Bridger.
The San Antonio Metropolitan Health District did not make Bridger or any other officials available for an interview for this story. However, Bridger, who also recently served as interim director of Metro Health, has previously said a waitlist would not remove people’s anxiety.
“Then their anxiety turns to, ‘Well, I’m registered, when am I going to get my shot?’ And so that is based on conversations with other big city health departments who have tried and abandoned registries,” Bridger said during a Feb. 4 council meeting.
During the Feb. 18 discussion on Courage’s proposition, Bridger also said she expected the focus on the mass vaccination sites like the Alamodome to diminish as more vaccines become available and begin appearing in locations like pharmacies - something that has already begun to happen.
Bridger also said at the time that there was “no unanimous agreement” between the other vaccine providers that a registry was the solution. Mayor Ron Nirenberg, who voted against Courage’s idea, focused on the lack of consensus.
“The reason why it hasn’t been done a month ago and it hasn’t been done yet is because the administrators of the vaccine in our community have unanimously said that they don’t want to do that. It’s a bad idea,” Nirenberg said during the Feb. 18 discussion.
Others outside of Bexar County don’t seem to think so, though. The Dallas and Houston metro areas both have registries that operate similarly to how Courage envisions, though they don’t involve every vaccine provider.
Harris County Public Health, for example, has a separate registry from the City of Houston, which it primarily uses for its own vaccination sites, including the super site at NRG Park. Harris County Public Health’s incident commander for the COVID-19 response, Jennifer Kiger, said just getting their name onto a list, though, seems to be helpful for people seeking vaccines.
“I think, you know, speaking to individuals, it does help relieve some of the stress and anxiety that they have, that they know that they’re on a list and that when their time comes, they will be pulled off of that list,” Kiger said.
Registries also have support at the state level.
“One of the best practices that has evolved throughout the COVID-19 vaccination effort is for counties and communities to agree to use one waitlist and then to be able to pull from that consistently,” the chairwoman of the state’s Expert Vaccine Allocation Panel, Imelda Garcia, told journalists during a March 4 media briefing.
“Now, with communities across the state, some of them are choosing to do that,” Garcia added. “Some of them are opting not to do that. However, at the end of the day, that is up to the local leadership on the ground to make those decisions.”