KANKAKEE — The percent of the Kankakee County population with COVID-19 vaccinations crossed 40 percent last week after more than eight months of vaccine distribution efforts.

Currently, 40.53 percent of Kankakee County’s population is fully vaccinated, or 44,588 people, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

After inching along in July, the county’s daily vaccination rate increased slightly during August and early September. The seven-day average for daily doses administered is 183.

Kankakee County Health Department administrator John Bevis is hoping the county can continue to increase its vaccination rate.

“That’s still 60 percent of our population that is not vaccinated,” he said. “It’s helping to cause this surge that Kankakee is seeing, and even though the region’s [COVID] numbers may be going down, Kankakee County’s numbers are still staying the same or slightly increasing.”

The test positivity seven day average for Region 7, which includes Kankakee and Will counties, has lowered from around 7 percent at the end of August to 5.9 percent on Sept. 10, according to IDPH data. Kankakee County’s average dipped last week but reached 8.5 percent on Sept. 10.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s COVID data tracker, Kankakee County had 314 new COVID-19 cases and 25 new hospital admissions in the past seven days, as of Monday.

“Vaccination is the No. 1 way to help slow this COVID-19 down, but I can’t make people do what they don’t want to do,” Bevis said. “Or in some cases, they’re not eligible for a vaccine based upon their age, so I understand that.”

Those under 12 are currently ineligible for any of the COVID vaccines. As of Monday, 29.38 percent of the county’s 12 to 17 population is fully vaccinated, compared to 47.91 percent of the 18-64 group and 76.01 percent of the over 65 population.

All surrounding counties except Iroquois County have higher vaccination rates, with Will County at 54.04 percent vaccinated as of Monday. Illinois’ total population is 53.88 percent vaccinated, according to IDPH.

In recent weeks, AMITA Health and Riverside Healthcare both announced their staff must be fully vaccinated by fall deadlines.

Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker also has required all teachers, professors, higher education students and health care workers in the state to get the first dose of the vaccine or submit weekly testing by Sept. 5.

Last Thursday, President Joe Biden announced a mandate where employers with over 100 workers must require employees to be vaccinated or test for the virus weekly. Executive branch government workers and contractors and health workers whose facilities receive Medicare or Medicaid funding will be required to be vaccinated as well.

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Meredith Melland earned a BA in journalism from DePaul University, where she worked as a web developer and editor for 14 East, DePaul's online student magazine. She has interned for Chicago magazine and WGN. Her email is mmelland@daily-journal.com.