CHAMPAIGN — As Champaign County approaches the 90,000 mark in the total number of COVID-19 vaccine doses given, some nearby counties have yet to hit 5,000.
Population alone doesn’t appear to account for the differences in vaccine allotments going to counties in the area. And officials said they’re not sure what other factors are being taken into account.
“I wish I knew,” said Vermilion County Health Department Administrator Doug Toole.
What the Douglas County Health Department can say is that Douglas County has had the highest COVID-19 positivity rate in the region for weeks. And since mid-January, it has gotten 200 first doses a week for some of those weeks, 100 first doses on some of the other weeks, and no first doses for one week, according to spokeswoman Summer Phillips.
It’s not for lack of asking.
“We have asked for more every week,” Phillips said.
As of Tuesday, Douglas County had administered 4,962 total vaccine doses. Ford and DeWitt counties were also in the 4,000 range, and Vermilion County had done 18,253 total shots.
Champaign County has administered even more first and second vaccine doses than what shows up in its totals because some of its allotment is also being given to residents of other counties who work in Champaign County. Those shots show up in totals for the counties where those people live, rather than where they work.
The state is following six vaccine allocation distribution steps, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. They include:
- Any doses needed to finish vaccinations in long-term-care facilities.
- Second doses that have come due.
- State-supported mass vaccination sites.
- Retail pharmacies (federal retail partners).
- Mobile vaccination teams (minority health).
- Local health departments — population-based and rounded to the nearest doses in a tray. Local health departments determine distribution to doctors, hospitals, clinics, etc. in their jurisdictions.
“Each week, the federal government allocates Illinois a limited number of doses of vaccine,” said Illinois Department of Public Health spokeswoman Melaney Arnold. “Illinois must distribute vaccines across the entire state with a careful eye toward equity.
“We are pleased to see an overwhelming demand for the vaccine,” she said. “However, the number of doses Illinois receives is limited, so the supply to meet that demand just isn’t there yet. We ask that people be patient. We understand there is frustration when trying to find an open appointment, but again, there just isn’t enough vaccine at this time to get everyone all the doses they are able to administer.”
Toole said Vermilion County got its first vaccine allotment weeks after other counties in the area got theirs — though his county now has robust clinics operating through OSF HealthCare and Carle Health.
Toole announced Monday that two new vaccination sites were opening for first and second doses of Moderna vaccine at Danville Area Community College and the Vermilion County Airport this month, with sign-ups underway.
Champaign-Urbana Public Health District Administrator Julie Pryde said population factors into vaccine allotments, and the state is aware that larger counties such as Champaign are vaccinating people who work there but live elsewhere.
Initially, ultra-cold-storage capacity needed for the Pfizer vaccine also came into play, and Champaign County was “ready and able to take Pfizer on Day 1,” Pryde said.
Last summer, the health district bought its own ultra-cold-storage freezer to be ready to store the Pfizer vaccine at the temperatures required, according to Brandon Meline, logistics chief for COVID-19 response. The health district can store up to 60,000 doses in its freezer but has never been close to filling it to capacity, he said.
Ultra-cold storage is no longer an issue for the Pfizer vaccine, since the Food and Drug Administration recently approved a change in storage requirements that allows it to be transported and stored at temperatures commonly found in pharmaceutical freezers.
That allows for counties that have been relying only on the Moderna vaccine only to expand to Pfizer, provided doses would become available to them.
Toole said that would complicate Vermilion County’s vaccine-clinic logistics, since they have operating with only Moderna, and the second dose of that vaccine comes due 28 days after the first, while second doses of Pfizer’s vaccine come due a week earlier, 21 days after the first.
Still, Toole said, “we’d be hard-pressed to turn anything down.”
New appointments for first doses in Champaign County have also dwindled in recent weeks, though that is largely because the county is currently heavy on second shots, health district officials said.
Meline said he expects to see that shift after next week as second doses for those who got their first in February get caught up and more vaccine becomes available for first doses.
On the up side, Meline said a high percentage of first-dose recipients in Champaign County have returned for their second.
While Champaign County has been able to fully vaccinate 21.6 percent of its 172,760 residents of eligible ages, Pryde said about 30 percent of adults 65 and older still haven’t gotten their first shots.
“And that concerns me,” she said.
The health district has been doing vaccinations at senior housing complexes to reach more older adults who may not have had access to announcements that they’re eligible and how to sign up, she said.
“For older people, especially, we really have to be aware not everyone has access to internet, not everyone consumes local media,” she said.
And while some older adults have been urged by their family members to get vaccinated, not everyone has that advantage, either, she said.
Local health officials have been getting a lot of requests for the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine, Pryde said, and they hope to have that in the next couple of weeks.