DeKalb County Health Department didn’t receive any COVID-19 vaccine shipments this week, health officials cite weather shipment delays

As a result of ongoing vaccine shipment challenges, local health officials say they won’t expand Phase 1b eligibility until supply increases

The DeKalb County Health Department did not receive any new COVID-19 vaccine shipments this week, according to an announcement by health officials posted to social media Friday afternoon.

Although the health department’s vaccine reduction remains in place, the lack of shipments this week was because of weather-related delivery delays, health officials said, not the reduction in allotment.

“As of this morning, we have not received any shipment of vaccine this week due to the weather-related vaccine delivery delays at the federal level,” health officials said in a statement Friday. “Please understand that with winter storms, safety is our No. 1 concern, and it may be likely in the winter months that a COVID-19 appointment may be canceled if a storm is projected. Please know that when this happens, we will reschedule your appointment. Thank you for your cooperation and understanding, as we want all who are driving to our clinics to be safe.”

Lisa Gonzalez, public health administrator for the local health department, said she hopes the vaccine delivery allotment for both this week and next will arrive at the beginning of next week.

“Once we have [the] vaccine in hand, we’ll be scheduling more clinics,” she said.

As a result of ongoing challenges with the arrival of COVID-19 vaccine, local health officials said Friday that DeKalb County will not expand its Phase 1b eligibility in line with Gov. JB Pritzker’s announcement last week that phased eligibility should, as of Feb. 25, also include those younger than age 65 with high-risk health conditions.

“Until [the] vaccine supply increases, DeKalb County will not be expanding to the Phase 1b Part 2 group announced by the governor that includes individuals ages 16 to 64 years with comorbidities and underlying conditions, as well as individuals with disabilities,” according to the statement from the county health department.

The first part of Phase 1b includes front-line essential workers who do not work remotely, such as first responders, corrections officers, food and agriculture workers, postal service workers, manufacturing and grocery store workers, public transit workers, educators for grades pre-K through 12, those who work in shelters or adult day cares, inmates and individuals ages 65 and older.

According to state data, DeKalb County is below average in vaccinating people ages 65 and older with their first dose. About 21.92% of that population in the county has received their first dose.

On Feb. 12, health officials announced vaccine doses would be significantly reduced over the next three weeks, with the county health department’s weekly vaccine allotment from the state slashed by 75%. That means instead of 1,200 doses delivered to the department weekly for mass vaccination clinics and to share with local hospital providers, only 200 to 300 doses would be given out.

It remains unclear why the reduction is happening specifically now, although when asked, local and state health officials said vaccine supplies continue to be limited.

That was compounded this week by severe winter weather, which delayed federal shipments of vaccines throughout the state.

Second doses secured

When asked whether she was worried about being able to fulfill DeKalb County’s second-dose obligations for residents who’ve already received their first and await their second, Gonzalez said she’s confident those who need their second dose will receive it.

“I am not worried about that,” Gonzalez said Friday.

She said based on weekly allocations from the state, numbers show there’s enough expected to arrive to cover the almost 5,000 second doses already planned through the county health department.

“Based on our allocation last week and this week, once we receive the vaccine that’s delayed because of weather, we are on track to fulfill those appointments,” Gonzalez said.

That includes second doses for people who had their first administered by Northwestern Medicine, although additional first-dose clinics through the health system are expected to be delayed until the week of March 8, when the three-week reduction period is over.

The state health department announced Sunday that second doses would be prioritized over first doses statewide until March, citing a statewide vaccine shortage. On Tuesday, the state said winter weather was delaying some federal vaccine deliveries, and weather also played a part in Sycamore teachers having a vaccine clinic canceled.

As a result, vaccine clinics for first doses will be limited or delayed. County health officials previously said they allocate first doses with the second dose already in mind, meaning 1,000 doses effectively would mean scheduling 500 appointments, for example.

Those who’ve received their first dose already will be prioritized for their second, since limited supplies means fewer doses to go around, and people need their second doses, health officials said.

Frustrations felt

Between the weather delays and reduced supply, Gonzalez said she, too, feels the frustration as her team of public health officials scramble to reschedule appointments for the already-stressed public.

“It does raise frustration levels not only of the public but also from our staff who are having to sort of deal with the negativity that comes with that,” Gonzalez said. “I think the frustration is statewide. There’s not enough vaccine to go around. I also did not anticipate this need to reduce first doses to cover second doses until it happened.”

She said that’s why health officials try to reschedule health clinics for the same day of the week and time slot previously planned, to ease potential conflicts in people’s schedules.

“The last thing we want to do is have to postpone clinics,” Gonzalez said. “Once we have them scheduled, it’s not an easy task to reschedule an entire clinic. For example, this week we were anticipating giving 1,000 second doses, and we have essentially had to move those to next week.”

According to a joint statement released by health departments in Region 1, the geographical area that runs north to Rockford and west to the Iowa border, all nine health departments in the region – including Winnebago County, the largest – are experiencing a decrease in COVID-19 vaccine supplies because of the current demand statewide for second doses.

“I assure you that if I had the vaccine, I’d be giving it,” Gonzalez said. “We aren’t sitting on any vaccine ever. We are using it within the week we get it. So in some cases this delay didn’t impact some health departments as much because they were sitting on more [vaccine]. We weren’t. We were trying to use it very appropriately and expeditiously to get it into the arms of the public.”

Vaccine reduction by the numbers

According to weekly vaccine data updated Friday, there were 348 doses of the vaccine administered to DeKalb County residents – a drop-off of almost 1,000 from the 1,340 doses administered last week. There are 600 doses currently in the county, including 110 with the health department and 490 with community partners.

As of end of day on Thursday, the county health department had administered more than 6,200 COVID-19 vaccines, including the first and second dose, to health care workers in Phase 1a and individuals in Phase 1b.

Since the week of Dec. 21, the health department has allocated a total of 3,000 vaccines, first and second doses, to Northwestern Medicine Kishwaukee and Valley West hospitals in DeKalb and Sandwich for the vaccination of health care workers and people ages 65 and older, health officials said.

The DeKalb County Health Department recently partnered with the Greater Elgin Center for Family Health to provide an initial allocation of 200 doses to be administered to patients who fall in Phase 1a or 1b.

Lower allocations provided to the county health department mean first-dose appointments will be significantly reduced, and the department temporarily has halted all additional distribution to Northwestern Medicine and the Greater Elgin Center.

Vaccine distribution for long-term care facilities and pharmacies such as Hy-Vee and Walgreens are not affected, according to the health department’s announcement, since those allocations come from a separate pool of vaccines, including through the federal Pharmacy Partnership Program for long-term care or through the Illinois Department of Public Health for pharmacies.

More than 30,000 DeKalb County residents have registered with the DeKalb County Health Department’s online registration portal, and health officials Friday reiterated that signups for notifications still are welcome, but participants should be patient.

Gonzalez said the health department makes appointments and sends notifications to those registered (no need to register twice, she said) based on who registered first. For instance, if you’re 65 or older and registered with the health department in January, you’re likely to get an appointment before someone who registered in February.

“Due to the size of Phase 1b and the current allocation, we ask that everyone be patient,” health officials said Friday. “Everyone in Phase 1b will not receive an appointment registration link at the same time. Registration is sent out to individuals on the vaccine notification list based on our current allocation for that week.”

Information on local vaccine providers can be accessed by visiting https://coronavirus.illinois.gov/s/vaccination-location or by reviewing additional places to register at www.shawlocal.com.

Kelsey Rettke

Kelsey Rettke is the editor of the Daily Chronicle, part of Shaw Media and DeKalb County's only daily newspaper devoted to local news, crime and courts, government, business, sports and community coverage. Kelsey also covers breaking news for Shaw Media Local News Network.