San Antonio health officials kicked off a vaccination campaign at the Alamodome this week where thousands of people rolled up their sleeves for protection against COVID-19. The operation inside the dome – and two other major campaigns – is what officials hope is the start of a larger effort.
A steady stream of cars pulled into the Alamodome’s south parking lot on Monday. Attendants in face masks directed people to a parking spot or to a drive-through tent for curbside vaccination – that line is reserved for people with mobility issues. Inside the dome, people filled out forms and waited in seats spaced out 6 feet apart for their turn to get a shot.
“We were asked by the state on Thursday to put together a mass vaccination event, we got the doses, we knew we’ll have 9,000 doses to administer,” said San Antonio Metro Health’s assistant director Dr. Anita Kurian.
After that, things moved very quickly in setting the event up — which now happens Monday – Saturday at the Alamodome.
“We picked out the site, we picked up the staffing, scheduling done, appointments done, everybody’s come together, and it couldn’t go any better than this,” she said.
Damita Jones of San Antonio was one of the first people to receive the vaccine at the Alamodome.
“I feel blessed, fortunate, to be one of the ones to be able to get it. My desire is for everyone to take advantage of getting this. This is our way to the other side of things getting better than it is right now,” Jones said.
Vaccine recipients here are signed up for their second dose on-site which is needed after about three weeks. (In an updated news release, San Antonio Metro Health said recipients who received their first dose before Wednesday, Jan. 13, will be contacted by Metro Health to schedule their second dose. Those who missed that call can contact 3-1-1 and select option 8.)
Vaccinations here began on Monday, and the plan is to vaccinate 1,500 people per day. But this isn’t the only place in San Antonio distributing the vaccine. University Health System will vaccinate another 1,500 at Wonderland Mall, and two WellMed clinics will give another 1,500 doses six days per week. Combined, that’s 4,500 doses per day.
Dr. Colleen Bridger, San Antonio’s COVID-19 Incident Commander, said they plan to request more than 30,000 doses of the vaccine per week from the state.
“If you do that math, that’s months and months that it will take us to be able to give a first dose and a second dose to the million plus people who qualify right now to be vaccinated,” she said.
That’s 1 million plus Phase 1B recipients just in Bexar County. Demand for the vaccine is high – but supply is limited. More than 9,000 Alamodome appointments were filled in six minutes over the weekend, both online and by calling 3-1-1.
Additional appointments are added if someone doesn’t show up for theirs, or more vaccines become available. Appointment availability has appeared at least twice on the city’s online registration system since Monday.
The plan is to start out with mega sites like this and branch off to smaller sites.
“Just like people saw us do with the testing sites, we started with one big testing site, then we grew to three big testing sites, then we started opening micro testing sites. That’s the plan for vaccination rollout as well,” Bridger said.
State Rep. Barbara Gervin-Hawkins represents San Antonio’s East Side in the Texas House. She welcomes the idea of smaller sites because the Alamodome can be daunting or even inaccessible for some.
“What I’m working on with the Health Department directly, with Dr. Bridger about is how we can get closer into the community,” Gervin-Hawkins said. “I believe some of our churches should be some of these sites.”
Getting to that point however, will take time. San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg says it will depend on how much vaccine the state makes available in order to see when more appointments and sites are added.
“We just need to know we’re going to get them in hand. The last thing we want to do is have people show up, wait in their car and go home,” Nirenberg said. “We want to make sure people are safe, that we say they’re going to have a vaccine, they actually have a vaccine.”
As San Antonio records its highest daily new cases of the coronavirus this month, vaccination campaigns like this are sign the end of the pandemic may be in sight, but still many months away.