Two Illinois National Guard vaccination teams will be administering 2,100 doses of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine in Kankakee County on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.
Appointment scheduling for the clinics opened on Thursday morning. By mid-day Thursday, all appointments for the Tuesday and Wednesday clinics planned for Kankakee Community College were booked. As of Friday, appointments were still available for Monday’s clinic at Pembroke Fellowship Church, 13279 E 5000S Road, Pembroke Township. All three clinics are set to run from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
County residents currently eligible for the vaccine can sign up for an appointment at Monday’s clinic at bit.ly/PembrokeClinic.
John Bevis, Kankakee County Health Department administrator, asked the state for a mass vaccination site or additional state resources around a week and a half ago when he noticed the county’s vaccination numbers were starting to lag behind the state’s average vaccination percentage.
“While we are getting out the vaccine into arms as quickly as we get it, we were still falling behind,” Bevis said.
Kankakee County has vaccinated 12.22 percent of the population as of Friday, according to data from IDPH. Only Henderson County and Alexander, Pulaski and Massac counties in Southern Illinois have vaccinated a lower percentage of residents.
State Sen. Patrick Joyce, D-Essex, followed up on Bevis’ inquiry with the Illinois Department of Public Health and Gov. JB Pritzker to make sure they were aware of where the county’s vaccination numbers stood.
“I think that was all we really had to do,” he said.
Now, Joyce is hopeful the clinics will help bring the county up to speed.
“Well, we’re going to do 2,100 people with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. One and done,” he said. “That’s 2 percent of our population for Kankakee County.”
The doses to be used by the National Guard are separate from the county’s weekly allotment. The health department had already received the supply by Tuesday, according to Bevis.
“Seven hundred appointments are scheduled for each of the three days, and it’ll be our goal to hopefully utilize all of those,” Bevis said. “Anything potentially that might be leftover after a day, if it hasn’t been opened, we’ll be able to keep.”
Each vaccination team of 18 people is made up of six vaccinators, one nurse, and 11 others who can register attendees, direct traffic and monitor people after the shot, according to Bevis.
“The health department and the local hospitals, the NAACP, Pembroke Community and KCC also will on each of the events be providing some of their staff to assist,” Bevis said.
The health department worked with the National Guard in scouting clinic locations and chose to spend one day in Pembroke.
“We did want to attempt to get out to a vulnerable population,” Bevis said. “The east side of the county does have a higher percentage of African-American and Hispanic individuals who either live or work in that community.”
Using the one dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine means that attendees don’t have to worry about scheduling and traveling to another appointment a few weeks later, but it also allows the National Guard teams to keep moving to other Illinois areas with slow vaccination rates.
It’s possible that the National Guard teams will return and operate clinics in other parts of the county, Bevis said but nothing is definitive yet.
“If we can pull this off, I think it will hopefully impress the state so that they would want to come back,” Bevis said.
Joyce, who on Wednesday afternoon was heading out to set up signs around Pembroke Community Church, echoed that sentiment. He also mentioned that since Illinois’ vaccine supply is projected to increase, the county’s allotment should soon go up.
“I really feel confident that over the next few weeks, we’re going to make great strides and the availability of vaccines will continue to exponentially grow,” Joyce said.