On Thursday, the weekly first-dose vaccination clinic at Riverside Medical Center had 1,500 doses to distribute to Kankakee County residents.
The nurses and staff were on hand. The two-stage vaccine was ready.
One key ingredient was absent, however. There was a critical shortage of arms to be injected with the Moderna vaccine.
Only 300 vaccines were administered, or about 20 percent of the available medication, was given.
The Riverside clinic is not an aberration. Clinics across Kankakee County, the state and the country are starting to see vast amounts of doses go unused.
“This week we have fallen off the cliff,” said Phil Kambic, Riverside Healthcare’s president and CEO. “It’s very disappointing. Do we continue on with these clinics if people don’t show up?”
The Kankakee County Health Department hosted three mass vaccination clinics with the Illinois National Guard this week where they prepared to distribute 2,100 first doses of Moderna.
Before the first clinic started Tuesday, only 497 appointments were made, according to Kankakee County Health Department Administrator John Bevis. The clinics used 258 doses on Tuesday, 275 on Wednesday and 297 on Thursday for a total of 830.
“We’ve had a lot of walk-ins because they heard there were going to be extra shots,” he said.
The health department will keep the remaining 1,270 doses and put them toward next week’s allotment.
Bevis said the county will not need help from the National Guard again if numbers remain low.
Bevis said the pause in the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, hesitancy and COVID fatigue are factors in the sharp decrease in turnout. Maybe the county has hit its “saturation for interest” in the vaccine, but he thinks it will take a few more weeks to know for sure.
As of Thursday, 26 percent of those eligible for the vaccination — or 22,543 Kankakee County people ages 16 and older — have been fully vaccinated, meaning they received both the first and second doses of Moderna or Pfizer or the one-dose vaccination from Johnson & Johnson.
As of Thursday, Riverside has 3,600 second doses of Moderna scheduled, including 1,191 at the Kankakee Junior High School on Monday.
That percentage, however, is far below the goal of 70 to 75 percent of the county’s population receiving the vaccine. The 70 to 75 percent target is the percentage cited by medical experts to establish what is termed “herd immunity.” Herd immunity is the level of population needed to be vaccinated to contain the spread of COVID-19.
Kambic and other healthcare officials are seeking ideas to get people to schedule vaccinations. He noted people want to return to the pre-pandemic life, but that will not happen until vaccine participation reaches the herd threshold.
Getting the remaining participation is going to be difficult and officials are well aware of that. Those who have received the vaccination thus far are those who were largely eager. Those who haven’t as yet will be a tougher audience.
“It’s getting harder and harder to give out doses,” Kambic explained. “What can we do together to get more people to the clinics? We are not at the destination yet. We have the last mile to go. People need the vaccine.”
But that brings Kambic back to his original question: How can officials convince people to get the vaccination?
“We’re seeing people in their 30s, 40s or 50s being hospitalized,” he said. “This is a good vaccine. Do yourself a favor, your family a favor, the community a favor and get vaccinated.”
He said the 25- to 50-year-old age group is really lagging. He noted Black and Hispanic vaccination rates are very low as well.
Bevis said future vaccine clinics are in the works with Duane Dean, the Illinois Migrant Council, the NAACP and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois.
“Some of these agencies are trying to go out to areas that are under-served,” Bevis said.
This strategy could make getting vaccinated more convenient for people who are trying to avoid crowds or have transportation limitations.
Kambic said a month or two ago he could not have imagined COVID-19 vaccine not being used.
“This is really a surprise to us,” he said.
He said his fear is more people will require hospitalization and may ultimately die as a result.
“I do believe that,” he said. “Our numbers are not going in the right direction. Let’s get the vaccine in people.”