SAN ANTONIO – When vaccines first began arriving in San Antonio, there was a mad dash to snatch up precious appointments.
But four months later, Bexar County’s largest provider, University Health, is now coaxing in curious shoppers from the Wonderland of the Americas mall, where its primary vaccination site is based, to make use of the doses it’s receiving.
“I think we’ve hit that vaccine saturation point where most of the people that want the vaccine have received it. And now you have those people that are just kind of, you know, hesitant to get that vaccine,” said Bill Phillips, a senior vice-president and the chief information officer at University Health.
Vaccine eligibility opened up to all Texans 16 years and older less than a month ago. An increased supply came up after to help deal with the flood of healthy, younger people looking to get their shots.
But Phillips says University Health is now seeing open appointments and about 1,000 no-shows every day. So they’ve switched to allowing walk-in appointments, knowing there’s going to be vaccine available.
“People are shocked to find out that they can walk in, go right in, get a vaccine, and be out of here within 20 minutes,” Phillips said.
“We just stumbled across it,” said Mark Aguero, who happened at Wonderland of the Americas on Thursday and ended up getting his first dose of the Pfizer vaccine. “And then the people at the front, the workers here, they just told us about how fast and efficient it was and how it was pretty convenient.”
It’s not just University Health that’s seeing the pressure come off. The city-run Alamodome vaccination site is also allowing residents to show up without appointments. WellMed has consolidated its vaccination sites in the face of less demand, and HEB’s online scheduler shows an array of San Antonio appointment options.
In a media briefing on Thursday afternoon, Imelda Garcia, Texas Department of State Health Services associate commissioner for laboratory and infectious disease services and chair of the Expert Vaccine Allocation Panel, said, “vaccination has slowed.”
“It seems we’re getting to the point that most people eager to get vaccinated have gotten at least their first. So the next phase will be about helping ensure that vaccine is more easily available to those folks who are not going to go as far out of their way,” Garcia said.
According to state data on Thursday afternoon, 16.6 million doses had been administered so far, with about 10.4 million people -- roughly 46.3% of the population -- having received at least one vaccine dose.
Those numbers do not include any doses administered by federal agencies, like the Department of Defense or the Department of Veterans Affairs, Garcia said.
When asked whether the slowdown meant Texas is in danger of not reaching herd immunity, Garcia said, “I think that the slowdown that we’ve seen just means that we need to work harder, and it may take us a little while longer.”
In the meantime, providers like University Health plan to ask the state for fewer doses in the future, though it should remain easier than ever to get your first dose.
“We will accept walk-ins from now on,” Phillips said.
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