Metro Health’s $100 HEB gift cards draw crowds for an encore

SAN ANTONIO — People began lining up two hours early Friday morning at a pop-up vaccination clinic at the Frank Garrett Multi-Service Center on the city’s West Side. Some people were turned away and others became frustrated with conflicting information from staff.

San Antonio Metropolitan Health announced late last week that anyone who receives a COVID-19 vaccine — new booster or primary series — at one of its Metro Health clinics will receive a $100 gift card.

This sent some residents running for their scoring chance.

But as vaccines became more readily available at commercial pharmacies across the city and the pandemic dragged on, Metro Health closed its mass vaccination sites, leaving only a few pop-up sites with limited hours available per week.

This means that those looking for the gift card will have to be patient and find a pop-up clinic online at covid19.sanantonio.gov.

According to the website, there are no Metro Health vaccination sites scheduled for this weekend.

On ExpressNews.com: Need groceries? Get the enhanced COVID-19 reminder and you could get a $100 HEB gift card.

Metro Health Deputy Director Anita Kurian said before the updated boosters and the gift card incentive, only about 25 people showed up for injections at each site. This week, they’ve seen up to three times as many people show up.

“The gift card is definitely a bonus,” said Stephen Sanchez, 44, who was at the center with his family because his daughter needed the second COVID-19 vaccine.

Her family had obtained a flyer for the vaccination clinic and continued to check the website before coming to check on their children at school early.

“We’re lucky it’s here and offered as a free service, but everything could have been better communicated and handled,” he said.

Previously, the city/county health department only offered grocery gift cards to those who had received the Johnson and Johnson single-shot vaccine or when a person had completed their two-shot inoculation from Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech.

This initial program was funded by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but the grant came after many San Antonians had already received their COVID-19 vaccine and was created to persuade people who were reluctant to get vaccinated.

The new incentive program is funded by the American Rescue Plan Act, which allowed Metro Health to expand eligibility to anyone presenting for the vaccine, spokeswoman Cleo Garcia said.

On ExpressNews.com: Updated COVID-19 boosters now available in South Africa at CVS, Walgreens and HEB

Federal authorities recently approved an updated bivalent booster shot that targets the most contagious omicron subvariants and restores protection against the original strain of coronavirus. The COVID-19 reminder is free.

The CDC recommends anyone 12 and older who has completed their first round of vaccines and received their last vaccine at least two months ago to receive the updated booster.

COVID-19 vaccines reduce the risk of serious illness, hospitalization and death after infection. Along with safety measures, such as social distancing, vaccines have helped the country slow a pandemic that has killed more than a million Americans.

Kurian urges people to check with the vendor on site to ensure the gift card is still available and “for everyone’s safety, once capacity is reached, please do not queue for long hours.”

Josie Norris contributed to this report.

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Michael N. Clark