SYCAMORE – The weekly number of COVID-19 vaccine doses delivered to the DeKalb County Health Department will be reduced by 75% for the next three weeks, health officials announced Friday afternoon.
According to the health department news release, health officials were notified this week that supply is still limited and a reduction will be imposed.
“This means that our previous 1,200 dose per week allotment will be reduced to between 200 and 300 doses per week,” the release read. “Since we anticipate the 300 dose per week allotment for the next few weeks, we have paused all re-allocation of vaccine until further notice.”
It’s unclear why reduction is happening specifically this week, or why now, though when asked, local and state health officials said vaccine supply continues to be limited.
What happens next, and what it means for second doses
That means distributions to local hospitals and clinics could be delayed for those who had their first dose scheduled. Vaccine appointments expected for DeKalb County Jail inmates next week have also been postponed for about three weeks, said Joyce Klein, chief of corrections for the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office.
County health officials previously said they allocate first doses with the second dose already in mind – meaning 1,000 doses would effectively mean scheduling 500 appointments, for example.
Those who’ve received their first dose already will be prioritized for their second, since limited supply means less doses to go around and people need their second dose, health officials said.
“Because second doses are becoming due, that leaves less vaccine available for first doses,” said Melaney Arnold, spokesperson for the Illinois Department of Public Health. “This is occurring across the state due to the limited amount of vaccine available from the federal government.”
Lisa Gonzalez, public health administrator for the DeKalb County Health Department, said Friday the Illinois Department of Public Health typically notifies the county each week about how many doses they will ship to the county. The county then determines appointment availability from there.
This time around, Gonzalez said, the state health agency also notified the county health department on Thursday the state will be giving the county 75% less doses than it has in the past.
“The second dose obligations are high for the next two weeks, which means the first doses given will be fewer,” Gonzalez said.
Health officials say reduction not limited to DeKalb County
Though the state appears to be optimistic that vaccine supply should increase soon, Gonzalez said, all vaccine supply for all counties will be limited for the next few weeks in the meantime. She said the reduction is not just limited to DeKalb County.
Arnold said the state expects vaccine dose supply to slowly increase in the coming weeks. In the meantime, the state didn’t want to push out those vaccines for more patients’ first doses that could potentially not get the second one in time and, ultimately, could result in those patients having to get a third dose.
“It’s going to be that continuing balancing act,” Arnold said.
Arnold said vaccine providers, including pharmacies, are going to have to get even more in the habit of planning out second doses corresponding with first doses. She said she understands it’s frustrating to not have the doses to meet the huge demand for the vaccine.
“We continue to ask for patience, simply because there just isn’t the supply of vaccine that we all want,” Arnold said. “We’re trying to distribute it as equitably as possible and trying to get it out as quickly as possible.”
Allocations thus far
As of end of day on Thursday, Feb. 11, the health department had administered more than 5,900 COVID-19 vaccines – 5,500 first doses and 400 second doses – to Phase 1A healthcare workers and individuals in Phase 1B including first responders, those in the kindergarten through 12th grade education sector, childcare providers and people 65 years old and older, according to the announcement.
Gonzalez said some scheduled first dose vaccine appointments had to be moved around on the county health department’s end as a result of the reduced supply. There still will be vaccine clinics scheduled in the next few weeks for whatever vaccine doses the county does receive for each week, she added.
“In this case, it’s just going to be smaller clinics until the vaccine supply increases,” Gonzalez said.
It’s also worth noting, Gonzalez said, that the county has not had to throw away any doses of the vaccine that may remain from patients not showing up for their appointments, for example. She said that’s why the county allocates doses the way that they do week by week.
Even in the event of a dose remaining because someone missed their appointment, Gonzalez said, there are a few places the health department can call to pick up those doses.
“So we are doing that and using them up,” Gonzalez said.
Trickle down effect
Health department vaccine doses are also shared with Northwestern Medicine’s health system, so limited vaccine shipments will impact Northwestern Medicine and Valley West hospitals as well, along with Greater Elgin Center for Family Health, which on Thursday announced vaccine appointments would begin opening up locally in Sycamore, Hanover Park and McHenry.
In addition to the department’s vaccine efforts, the department has allocated a total 2,900 doses – 1,900 first doses and 1,000 second doses – since the week of Dec. 21 to Kishwaukee and Valley West Hospitals to vaccinate healthcare workers and those patients 65 years and older, the release states.
Gonzalez said the county has been reallocating vaccine doses it receives to the hospitals regularly since it became available in the county.
“We are going to pause doing that” for the first vaccine doses, Gonzalez said, though second dose appointments also will be honored through the hospital and she only anticipates most first dose appointments having to be rescheduled through Northwestern Medicine.
The reduction at this point will not impact other local distributors administering the vaccine, such as pharmacies, however, because those shipments are separate from the health department’s allocation, health officials said.
“The Health Department does not currently allocate vaccine to local pharmacy providers. Vaccine supply for pharmacies is directly allocated by either the federal government or the state,” the release states. “Although the state is actively adding pharmacy partners as vaccine locations, there are still limitations as it relates to appointment availability.”
Information on local vaccine providers can be accessed by using the following link: https://coronavirus.illinois.gov/s/vaccination-location or by reviewing additional places to register at www.shawlocal.com.
Expanded eligibility amid supply shortages ‘adds new challenge’
The announcement also shed more light on new eligibility expected in Phase 1B, according to Gov. JB Pritzker’s announcement this week.
This week it was announced that, beginning Feb. 25, Phase 1B will be expanded to include individuals 16 and older who have co-morbidities and underlying conditions as defined by the Centers for Disease Control.
“While we are still awaiting additional guidance on this change, we have been advised that the list of conditions will likely include Cancer, Chronic Kidney Disease, COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease), Diabetes, Heart Condition, Immunocompromised State from a Solid Organ Transplant, Obesity, Pregnancy, Pulmonary Disease and Sickle Cell Disease,” the release states. “At this time, as we await additional guidance from the state on this new change, we are determining how best to incorporate this additional priority group into our Phase 1b vaccination strategy at a time when vaccine is in such short supply.”
Gonzalez said adding another group to an already large Phase 1B group – which includes a lot more people to vaccinate than the Phase 1A group did – adds to the challenge health departments are facing with vaccine distribution.
“To add another group into that means that people are going to have to continue to be patient,” Gonzalez said.
In State Rep. Jeff Keicher also expressed strong concerns in reaction to the reduction announcement Friday
“The biggest frustration I have is that this is happening in the same couple days that the governor has gone around talking about the hundreds of new vaccination sites that are open,” Keicher said. “And it just runs contrary to what reality is. And he’s painting a narrative that is creative more and more frustration among the elderly without explaining why we’re dealing with what we’re dealing with.”
In the past few days, local residents have come forward expressing concern over how difficult is it to secure vaccine appointments even if they qualify for Phase 1B. That was before Friday’s reduction announcement.
Keicher said the added frustration by many senior citizens who are asked to register for a vaccine appointment through so many different digital portals is now only compounded by even more limited supply.
He said the expanded eligibility, while a good thing, seems all the more difficult now since there’s not enough vaccine to go around.
“I would never suggest that anyone not be eligible for the vaccine,” Keicher said. “But we need a way to vaccinate that makes sense and is transparent to everyone.”
Residents who live in DeKalb County should also continue to stay plugged into health department social media and local news providers to receive updates on vaccine availability. Local health officials said more than 30,000 people have signed up via their online portal to be notified when it’s their turn to get the vaccine. Not everyone will receive that appointment confirmation at the same time, and registration is sent out to individuals based on each week’s current allocation.
• This story has been updated to include comment from State Rep. Jeff Keicher, and state and local health officials including Lisa Gonzalez of the DeKalb County Health Department and Melaney Arnold from Illinois Department of Public Health.