Four weeks after McHenry County received its first shipment of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, local hospitals and long-term care facilities will begin administering the second dose of the vaccine to Phase 1a populations this week, meaning Phase 1b vaccinations will begin next week, a McHenry County Department of Health official said Monday.
The county, with the help of local health care facilities, vaccinated about 6,700 people in Phase 1a. They will need to expand their distribution efforts in order to tackle the much larger Phase 1b population, which Public Health Nursing Director Susan Karras said encompasses about 75,000 people.
“The rollout of starting [Phase 1b] is going to be delayed about a week because those facilities that are required to provide that second dose to their 1a populations are busy doing that this week and then they can enter into that 1b,” Karras said.
Within Phase 1b, the county will prioritize residents ages 65 and older to receive the vaccine first “since they are the most affected by this disease,” Karras said in a meeting of the McHenry County Board of Health Monday evening.
A limited number of these senior residents were able to schedule appointments to receive their first dose of the vaccine on Monday when the health department was notified that Jewel-Osco allocated 800 vaccine doses provided to them by the federal government to McHenry County.
Slots for the appointments opened up Monday evening and were filled that night, Karras said. Appointments were available to eligible seniors who had registered with the county’s Phase 1b online enrollment form
Mercyhealth Harvard Hospital will begin vaccinating patients who are eligible for Phase 1b soon, a spokeswoman said Wednesday. Mercyhealth had mistakenly said in a news release Tuesday that vaccinations would begin this week; the hospital system began Phase 1b vaccinations at its Wisconsin providers, but not in Illinois, the spokeswoman clarified Wednesday.
Mercyhealth will offer vaccines to patients in the same way that local Northwestern Medicine hospitals soon will, by extending invitations to eligible, existing patients who can then make their vaccine appointments, according to the news release.
Spokespeople for both systems said their local hospitals will wait until the McHenry County health department begins Phase 1b and provides them with their share of doses.
Initially, eligible Mercyhealth patients will receive invitations through their Mercyhealth MyChart account, but invitations will be extended to more patients via email or phone call as vaccine supply grows, according to the release. Vaccines will be administered at one centralized location by appointment only and appointments cannot be made without an invitation.
Once the McHenry County health department has finished providing senior residents with their first doses, the vaccine will be made available to front-line essential workers in the coming weeks, Karras said Monday.
The county received a large shipment of COVID-19 vaccine doses on Jan. 22 and 25 in preparation for the rollout of Phase 1b next week, she said. Of the total amount of doses the county has received thus far, 45% of them came in these two latest shipments.
Of the 75,000 McHenry County residents eligible to be immunized in this next phase, only about 50% to 60% have indicated that they are interested in receiving the vaccine, Karras said. The true percentage, however, is likely much higher as some residents may be interested, but have yet to fill out the county’s online enrollment form.
The department is in the process of setting up a call center as another way to sign up to receive the vaccine, she said.
“Based on that large population that resides just in that phase, it is going to be a challenge to meet the expectations of our community where they want rapid delivery of the vaccine. It’s just not going to be rapid,” Karras said. “People are tired of us asking them to be patient, but the capacity of delivery of that amount of vaccine is going to be a challenge.”
Aggressive planning is already underway to accommodate the start of Phase 1b, Karras said. Area pharmacies and health care systems will host their own vaccine clinics for patients and the health department will expand its clinics into new locations, primarily into local schools.
A number of local schools and school districts have agreed to take on the responsibility of setting up vaccine clinics in what Karras called a “regional approach.” In this partnership, the health department will provide them with vaccine doses and training on how to run a clinic and they will take it from there.
“They developed a team that includes superintendents, private school representatives and two school nurses that have participated on the task force and have been participating in our clinics, so that they’re very aware and knowledgeable about how these clinics work,” she said.
Woodstock North High School is already in use as a COVID-19 vaccine clinic and will remain so after 1 p.m. and on weekends once students return to the building for hybrid learning, Karras said. McHenry County College is another potential site location for Phase 1b vaccinations.
The Board of Health approved a memorandum of understanding with Huntley School District 158 on Monday to use the district’s bus barn on its Square Barn Campus in Algonquin as a drive-thru vaccination clinic.
District 158 Superintendent Scott Rowe said Tuesday that the agreement is not to be used in Phase 1b, but that the bus barn clinic will be set up for later phases when the county begins vaccinating more of the general public.