First COVID-19 vaccine

Emily Meyer, right, director of pharmacy for Riverside Healthcare, and Zachary St. Pierre, pharmacy resident, prepare the first round of COVID-19 vaccinations in Kankakee County on Dec. 16 at Riverside Medical Center.

The Kankakee County Health Department is asking residents for patience as it works through vaccinating the 1A group and prepares to begin vaccinating the next prioritized 1B group.

“We’re going to go through this list best we can,” Kankakee County Health Department Administrator John Bevis said. “The more people who get vaccinated, [we] will definitely knock this little critter off to the curb so that we can get back to what everyone wants, that normalcy.”

Bevis said the state was initially projecting to move to the 1B group in mid January, but it seems now that it will be pushed back at least to the beginning of February.

Kankakee County is still working through vaccinating the 1A group, which includes healthcare workers and long-term care facility residents and staff.

The state’s intention is to wait for substantial completion statewide before giving counties the OK to move on to subsequent groups.

Bevis said the lengthy process is as frustrating to the health department as it has been for residents.

Unfortunately, it is a “slow roll” right now and patience is necessary.

The department has to receive, process and store vaccine shipments; then, it has to set up clinics, contact agencies with eligible workers, take appointments and administer a series of two shots three and four weeks apart.

“Kankakee County has a population of 110,000, and if half the people want a shot, and they need two shots, that’s 100,000 shots,” Bevis said. “It’s going to take some time to get through everybody to do one shot, let alone two.”

He said coordinating by appointment is necessary so vaccines are not wasted; the vaccines must be stored at a specific temperature and can only be removed from storage for a certain timeframe. The vaccine cannot just be stored on a shelf for use at a later date.

In addition, social distancing is still a priority.

“We aren’t in a situation where we can just put the sign up and say if you want a shot come and get it,” Bevis said. “We have to be sensitive and careful for social distancing. If people [line up] at the health department to get a shot, that line could extend to the county line, and we can’t have that.”

The department began the process Wednesday of giving the second round of shots to those who have already received their first shots.

The initial shipment of vaccinations included 1,570 doses, but some vials contained one or two more doses than indicated, which helped to increase the numbers, Bevis said. He estimated over 1,600 shots were given the first week.

“We know we probably have hundreds more doses we need to give out to individuals before we can say comfortably that we think we’ve done all the 1As and we can be ready to move on to 1B,” he said.

Once the 1B phase begins, people in the 1A group who didn’t get vaccinated in the first phase can still do so; they wouldn’t move to the end of the line, he added.

Also on Wednesday, the state announced that the eligibility age for the 1B group was lowered from 75 to 65 to compensate for disparities with Latino and Black populations, who are disproportionately experiencing COVID-19 related deaths at younger ages.

Currently, the average age of COVID-19 death is 81 for white residents, 72 for Black residents and 68 for Latino residents, according to the governor’s office.

In Kankakee County, the 65 and older age group represents approximately 19,000 people.

The 1B group will also include “frontline essential workers” such as firefighters, law enforcement, postal service workers, grocery store workers, public transit workers, childcare workers, and teachers and school support staff.

The health department will notify the public as soon as it is able to move phases, set up clinics and take appointments for more people. It also has an automated hotline at 815-802-9311 to call for updates.

Bevis also stressed that while allergic reactions to the vaccination are possible, they are rare, and medical professionals will be nearby if treatment is needed.

He is encouraging everyone currently eligible for the vaccination to get it, as it is “a great opportunity to help knock COVID back.”

“The risks for the vaccine definitely [are outweighed by] the impact of having the virus and spreading it to a family member who then turns around and dies,” he said. “That’s a serious issue and a number of people have experienced that through last year.”

Reporter

Stephanie Markham joined the Daily Journal in February 2020 as the education reporter. She focuses on school boards as well as happenings and trends in local schools.