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Metro Health’s $100 H-E-B gift cards draw crowd for booster

Residents are again lining up for their COVID-19 shot, some in hopes of scoring a $100 H-E-B gift card.

San Antonio Metropolitan Health announced late last week that anyone who gets a COVID-19 vaccine — new booster or primary series — at one of its Metro Health clinic locations will get the gift card incentive.

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

This means 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 vaccine sites scheduled for this weekend.

Metro Health assistant director Anita Kurian said prior to the updated boosters and the gift card incentive, only about 25 people showed up for shots at each site. This week they’ve seen up to three times more people showing up.

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

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

His family had gotten a flyer for the vaccine clinic and continued to check the website before coming and checking their kids out of school early.

“We are lucky that this is here and offered as a free service, but it all could have been communicated and handled better,” he said.

Previously, the city/county health department only offered the grocery store gift cards for those who either got the Johnson and Johnson single-shot vaccine or when a person completed their two-shot inoculation of Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech.

That initial program was funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but the grant came after many San Antonians had already gotten their COVID-19 vaccine and was created to persuade people who were hesitant to get the shots.

This new incentive program is funded by the American Rescue Plan Act, which has allowed Metro Health to expand its eligibility to anyone coming in for the vaccine, said spokesperson Cleo Garcia.

This comes as federal authorities approved an updated bivalent booster shot that targets the more contagious omicron subvariants and restores protection against the original coronavirus strain. The COVID-19 booster is free.

The CDC recommends anyone 12 and older who has completed their primary series of vaccines and received their last shot at least two months ago to get the updated booster shot.

COVID-19 vaccines reduce a person’s chance of severe illness, hospitalization, and death after infection. Along safety measures such as social distancing, vaccines have helped the nation slow down a pandemic that has so far killed more than 1 million Americans.

Kurian urges people to check with the onsite provider to make sure the gift card is still available and “for everyone’s safety, once capacity is reached, please do not stand in line waiting for long hours.”

Josie Norris contributed to this report.



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