Future of a San Antonio vaccine waitlist unclear

City council committee discusses improving vaccine appointment sign-ups

SAN ANTONIO – San Antonio City Council members want a better way to sign up for vaccinations, but it’s not clear what form that might end up taking.

The Community Health and Equity Committee discussed the need for easier vaccine registrations during a Tuesday afternoon briefing from the county’s largest vaccine providers, including the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District, WellMed, University Health, and UT Health-San Antonio.

Though the suggestion of a registry or waitlist, from which providers could draw to schedule appointments, was raised, there was no definitive move to institute one -- or any other fix.

Instead, District 7 Councilwoman Ana Sandoval, committee chairwoman, invited the representatives from the vaccine hubs to return for another meeting to help figure out a way that’s not as “confusing” or “chaotic” to the people trying to sign up.

“I’m not going to prescribe to you what the solution is. I thought maybe it was a registry. I thought it was a vaccine waiting list,” Sandoval said. “That may not be the solution, but I’m going to ask you to help us think of what can make this easier, less anxiety-inducing for our residents so that we can all move on to to a safer and healthier place.”

The signup process has been frustrating for many in Bexar County, with online signups filled in minutes and jammed phone banks leading some to call hundreds of times in an attempt to snag a limited number of appointments.

Some council members, led by District 9 Councilman John Courage, have expressed support for a central registry or waitlist system. A vote to create such a registry failed 7-4 in a Feb. 18 council meeting. The Houston and Dallas metro areas, for example, both have some form of registries or waitlists that offer appointments to a select number of people as they become available.

Though Austin Public Health requires people to preregister for its system, it’s not a true waitlist, as vaccination signups are not limited to a small number of people.

Some of the vaccine providers at Tuesday’s meeting spoke against the idea of a registry.

“If I’m number 680,000 on the list, I think I’m going to be a little anxious about when I’m going to get my vaccine,” said Jimmie Keenan, a senior vice president with WellMed, which has relied on phone signups to fill its appointments.

“I don’t think any of us are opposed to a single registry, but it will come with problems,” said Dr. Robert Leverence, the chief medical officer for UT Health San Antonio, which began offering vaccine appointments to the public last week. “And are we really solving the problem we’re hoping to solve? Will patients necessarily have an easier time or get them any quicker? I’m not sure that’s -- I’m truly not sure that’s the case.”

However, Leverence also asked for help to create a registry of people without internet or smartphone access that UT Health could contact to schedule appointments.

“We could simply reach out to them. We can call them and schedule them a vaccine appointment,” Leverence said. “So there’s no waiting on the line. There’s no calling multiple times. There’s no waiting for us to receive a supply.”

Though not part of the committee, Councilman Courage commented during the meeting, too, saying he still stood by his suggestion before saying the system University Health is using was “perfect.”

University Health officials described a multi-prong approach to filling their vaccine appointments, which includes the following:

  • Using its smartphone app to give targeted notifications that more appointments are about to become available, so people in certain areas with higher risk and a lower rate of vaccinations get a “head start”;
  • Partnering with other organizations or groups, such as school districts or VIA Metropolitan Transit, to get lists of eligible vaccine recipients;
  • Reaching out directly to UH patients they already know are at higher risk.

“But can that system be expanded to allow people to get on and sign up and be in that registry, and then that registry be used to send the next 10,000 names to WellMed, or the next 5,000 names to UT, or the next 10,000 names to the City of San Antonio?” Courage asked.

Whether that system or any other will be expanded remains to be seen.

About the Author:

Garrett Brnger is a reporter with KSAT 12.