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Sangamon County Reserved COVID Vaccine Slots For 85 And Older, Others Got Appointments Anyway

Sangamon County Department of Public Health Director Gail O'Neill talks about the importance of flu shots during COVID-19 pandemic.
Mary Hansen
NPR Illinois

The Sangamon County Department of Public Health announced last week it would prioritize new appointments for COVID-19 vaccinations at its drive-thru clinic to those 85 and older, and their 65-or-older caregivers.

But some of the more than 6,000 people who scheduled for slots Feb. 1 through March 15 did not actually meet that criteria, the health department noted in a document provided Tuesday. The county did not provide specifics of how many people.

However, according to the document, the county believes all who have registered do meet the state’s Phase 1B criteria -- they’re over 65 or an essential worker. County public health director Gail O’Neill said the county will honor appointments for those who qualify under Phase 1B.

“We didn't want to get in the position where we're going to have to tell the community ‘Okay, all 1Bs after we’ve cancelled you, we need you to come back,’” she said.

The appointments that were released last week booked quickly. Now, occasionally slots will open up in the online system if there's a cancellation. O’Neill urged those 85 and older who are struggling to make an appointment online to call the health department’s hotline, 217-321-2606.

Jeff Wilhite, a county spokesman, said they believe some people did not answer truthfully in an initial screening question on the online system -- “Are you 85 years of age or older, a healthcare worker, or scheduling your second dose?” -- and went on to make an appointment.

The county’s registration system asks for the person’s qualifying profession or group, and to attest that they meet the county’s priority criteria for receiving the shot.

Last week, county officials said they restricted eligibility due to limited and inconsistent supply of the vaccine. Now, O’Neill said the county is getting more reliable shipments from the state and future appointments will be for anyone in Phase 1B. This includes teachers, first responders, grocery store workers, among other essential workers. 

The more consistent supply is leading to other changes as well.

Illinois Department of Public Health data shows the county health department has 7,680 doses of the vaccine in its inventory. The county health department’s document indicates its inventory is around 7,000.

O’Neill said the inventory grew over a few weeks. The department had been holding onto them to ensure there were enough shots for second doses and for scheduled appointments at its drive-thru clinic.

The department will now reallocate many of those doses to local medical providers to set up additional vaccination clinics for Phase 1B recipients, starting with HSHS St. John’s and Memorial Health System. More details on locations and start dates will be released soon.

“We have a lot of appointments scheduled out, but with us getting a weekly supply, we feel like we don't need to hang on to that and to get it out and put it into arms,” O’Neill said.

The department will allocate additional doses to Southern Illinois University School of Medicine and Springfield Clinic “as soon as supplies are adequate,” according to the document.

After facing criticism of a slow COVID-19 vaccine rollout, IDPH recently began posting weekly inventory of doses for each public health department in the state.

O’Neill said that move is one reason the county decided to provide more doses to medical groups. She also said a more consistent supply from the state and a separate shipment for second doses, which arrived this week, also helped alleviate concerns Sangamon County would run out.

O’Neill said the county would continue to maintain an inventory of about 1,000 doses on hand as a back-up for its clinic and medical providers.

Hy-Vee and Walgreens pharmacies are also providing COVID-19 vaccines in Sangamon County to those who qualify in Phase 1B.

The county has given 6,476 first doses to residents at its drive-thru clinic. It has 13,772 appointments scheduled for both first and second shots through March 15. O’Neill does not anticipate adding more soon.

According to IDPH, 26,290 doses have been given to Sangamon County residents, and 4,801 residents are fully vaccinated, about 2.46% of the county’s population.

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