Sangamon County Launches COVID Vaccine Clinic For Health Workers, Preps For Public Distribution

Jan 10, 2021

Credit Mary Hansen / NPR Illinois

Sangamon County healthcare professionals who don’t work at area hospitals can sign up to get a COVID-19 vaccine from the health department.

The Sangamon County Department of Public Health is giving the shot to those who work at dentist offices and home healthcare agencies, among other places. A full list of those who qualify for a shot in the “1a” category is on the Illinois Department of Public Health’s website.

The vaccine clinic is open seven days a week, by appointment. For more information about who is eligible or to sign up for an appointment, call 217-321-2606 or visit the Sangamon County health department’s website. The clinic is inside now, but the plan is to move outdoors to a drive-thru clinic next week. 

Sangamon County Department of Public Health Director Gail O’Neill said vaccinations of the next priority group – including seniors over 65 – could start at the end of the month.

O’Neill acknowledged that some counties have already moved onto vaccinating seniors. For example, Illinois Public Media reports that the Champaign-Urbana Public Health Department set up a vaccine clinic for those over 75 years old for later this week. The appointments are all already filled.

For Sangamon County, O’Neill said that’s not possible yet because of the number of medical workers.

“We really want to make sure that the healthcare workers are protected,” she said. “It's set up like this as a state, and they asked us to all do this consistently.”

Still, O’Neill said the health department does not have an exact number of medical personnel in the county who qualify in the “1a” priority group. She said the department is working with the hospitals, medical groups, dental practices and others to figure it out. And traffic at the vaccine clinic at the health department will help determine when to move on to the next priority group.

“We will know when there aren't many of those coming in, then we'll move to ‘1b,’” O’Neill said.

Gov. JB Pritzker recently lowered the minimum age for those who fall under the “1b” group, from 75 years old to 65. The group also includes frontline workers such as teachers, grocery store workers, police officers and other first responders.

12,500 Doses Received So Far

As of Friday, the county has received 12,500 doses, which includes both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, O’Neill said. The health department split the initial doses in mid-December among the two Springfield hospitals, HSHS St. John’s and Memorial Medical Center.

Now, the health department is distributing shipments to the hospitals and medical groups including SIU Medicine and Springfield Clinic. It’s also keeping some to administer to its staff and health workers unaffiliated with hospitals or medical groups.

O’Neill said the 12,500 doses do not include what’s been distributed by the federal government through contracts with Walgreens and CVS to nursing homes and long-term care facilities in the area, whose residents and employees are also in the highest priority group. She said she hopes to get data from the state health department.

The health department also doesn’t have information so far on how many doses have been administered – another stat O’Neill hopes the state health department provides. All providers of the vaccine are required to report who’s getting it to the state.

HSHS St. John’s and Memorial Medical Center announced last week they’re now giving out the second doses of the vaccine. Both Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech require two shots, spaced a few weeks apart.

Meanwhile, SIU Medicine shared on its Facebook page last week it administered roughly 300 doses to its medical staff.

Vaccine Clinic

O’Neill said more than 200 shots have been given at its clinic so far. As the department fine tunes the logistics of administering the vaccine, it will increase the number of available appointments each day.

Those receiving the shot must fill out paperwork beforehand and be monitored by nursing staff for 15 minutes after the injection for any adverse reactions. An ambulance must be on site as well.

The health department is preparing to move to a drive-thru vaccine clinic in its parking lot. The department is spending $95,000 to set up three garages to protect its staff from inclement weather as they administer the shots and monitor patients afterwards.

The garages can hold up to eight cars each, O’Neill said. Set-up is scheduled to begin this week and the garages should be ready by next week.

O’Neill received her first COVID-19 vaccine shot Wednesday. She said she was going to wait until more frontline workers got it before getting in line to get hers. But the clinic needed to give out doses in a container that was already open to avoid wasting the vaccine. She said this is one challenge, particularly with the Moderna vaccine, which has 10 doses to a vial and must be used within six hours of opening.

“I didn't feel like I needed to be in the first group, but I agreed to go do that so that they didn't have to throw one away,” O’Neill said.

The goal is to get 70% of the county’s population vaccinated to achieve herd immunity, O’Neill said.

Contact Mary Hansen at mhans6@uis.edu or on Twitter @maryfhansen.