GENEVA – Kane County must wait to have supplies of the coronavirus vaccine while it works on updating a website portal for scheduling and appointments – and officials would like the public’s patience as details are worked out.
Board member Jarett Sanchez, D-Carpentersville, said the Health Department is working on a standard vaccine distribution to priority groups 1A and 1B. 1A are people in long-term care facilities and healthcare workers and 1B are for frontline workers and those age 65 and older, according to CDC guidelines.
“It’s not widely available until the government’s distributing it,” Sanchez said. “As the supply increases, … (and) the 1B category opens up, we’ll start seeing a progression in our community as more people get vaccinated. I would ask for patience from the public simply because it is a huge undertaking. ... It’s not so simple to just hand this stuff out.”
Sanchez said officials are working to create a portal for Kane residents to sign up for vaccines as they become available.
“I know it’s not happening as quickly as some would like, but the reality of this type of undertaking is that’s very difficult, and requires a lot of moving pieces and a lot of things getting figured out,” Sanchez said. “Hopefully by next Wednesday (Jan. 20) we’ll have a good idea of where we’re at and be able to unveil a little more to the public.”
75,000 Kane residents 1B vaccine group
Roger Fahnstock, chief information officer from the county’s Information Technology Department, said the portal will be a way to notify people that the vaccine is available.
“We’re working on the delivery of vaccine – with the Health Department and Sheriff coordinating that – in order to do the scheduling for appointments,” Fahnstock said. “In 1A, that’s a targeted audience that has very specific people being contacted to get the vaccine. In 1B it opens up broader and you’re going to need to have appointment and scheduling.”
The 1B group in Kane County is about 75,000 people, Fahnstock said. Currently, the 1A group is still getting vaccines, he said.
There are several modes of scheduling, Fahnstock said.
One is a state-based track – which is what the Health Department recommends – and some other tracks are based on health care records that can do patient scheduling, Fahnstock said.
“Any place that’s taking appointment and scheduling right now is kind of putting people in a holding pattern because they have not released (vaccines for) 1B and they haven’t started doing the scheduling,” Sanchez said. “So we’re working with the state with their deployment of the portal. They met this morning to talk about … the track and how that works.”
Fahneson said some IT and Health Department employees have had some training. The state is going to put up test sites so clinical personnel can get familiar with how scheduling and processing works.
“The next part would be to start deploying that to the county’s sites and then working with the PIO (public information officer) to get the word out,” Fahnstock said.
“On the county Health Department website, there is a notification system on there to notify you of when they’re going to start the next steps with 1B. I think that some people have concerns because they want to know when they can schedule an appointment. They don’t want to be notified when they can schedule an appointment, the’d like to do the appointment,” Fahnstock said.
“We’re working on that little portal to get an appointment schedule process in place. I think this week we’ll get a lot of progress as we get feedback from the partners who are involved in that,” Fahnstock said.
The Health Department has advised that when they move into vaccinations for 1B, there are about 30 private providers also working on the 1B category that will be able to provide vaccines as well, Fahnstock said.
“A lot of this information is coming and it’s going to come fast,” Fahnstock said. “I hope we can address a lot of the issues in the next week, but I think you’re going to see a lot of things happening in the coming weeks.”
Board Chairwoman Corinne Pierog said the county wants to serve its people adequately and efficiently – not with long lines seen in Florida.
“We don’t want a bunch of people sitting in the car overnight, concerned or in their pajamas in this cold waiting to get the vaccine,” Pieorg said.
To Fahstock’s point, in addition to CVS and Walgreens, two Osco pharmacies have been authorized to give the vaccine, Pierog said.
“The logistics of being able to inocculate this 1B – this very large pool which includes postal workers … teachers, principals, cafeteria workers, aides … maybe 15,000 people? … To get all of those vaccines here in Kane County and be able to distribute them effectively … if we don’t do it right, we are going to cost people’s lives,” Pierog said.
Reality vs. desire
Sanchez said the county’s Health Department operates on a “very thin budget” under the previous administration’s eight years of a tax levy freeze.
The Health Department is funded by Riverboat money and the rest from state and federal grants, Sanchez said.
“We are down to the bone. So we have a public Health Department with a small budget that is – some would say – understaffed. We don’t have enough staff to handle a pandemic. So they have their normal jobs … and almost the entirety of 2020, they’ve been dealing with COVID,” Sanchez said.
“The reality is, it’s not easy to just snap our fingers and put things out there,” Sanchez said. “As I said, the vaccine is still trickling in, so it’s going to be some time before we even have enough supply to make any kind of significant change in how many people are vaccinated.”
Board member Mohammad “Mo” Iqbal, D-Elgin, put it more simply: The county has no vaccine to deliver to 1B.
“This registration matter is just a mirage,” Iqbal said. “It’s an illusion. It doesn’t do anything. The Governor has all the authority. When he says group B will go, we will go. And we should make it very clear to the people that we have no authority, we have no vaccine. And when it comes to CVS and Walgreens, we can line up and get it there. Very simple.”
But that does not stop constituents from calling County Board members, such as Verner Tepe, D-Elgin, who said he is getting questions about the coronavirus vaccine and a schedule for giving vaccinations.
“That’s all well and good,” Tepe said of Sanchez’s and Fahnstock’s explanations. “But I’m getting phone calls every day from people saying, ‘What’s happening?’ And if the county is involved in this (vaccinations), we need to have some level of information.”
Tepe said it was not enough to tell people there’s going to be a meeting next week and he’ll know more then.
“That’s not very satisfying and it certainly does not make this body look good,” Tepe said.
‘A fool’s mission’
Board member John Martin, R-Geneva, said he just read all these details in Kane County Connects, the county’s electronic newsletter.
“We don’t have it, OK? So the answer is, what we’ve got, we distributed and when we get more, we’ll distribute that,” Martin said. “We can’t create facts that don’t exist.”
Board member Drew Frasz, R-Elburn, said the answers were all spelled out in the Health Department’s weekly briefing last Friday.
Martin said people who get phone calls should say they’ve given out all the vaccine they have and when they get more, they will work on the distribution.
“It’s simpler than creating a fool’s mission to predict the unpredictable,” Martin said. “To Drew’s point, we have data here that today we’re asking questions about as if it doesn’t exist,” Martin said. “It is the board member’s obligation to review this stuff when it comes in.”
Pierog said it takes seven times to communicate something, so she will ask the Health Department to put together five or six points in a quick summary sheet to make it easier for board members to talk to constituents.