Vaccine in high demand

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Monroe County hosted its first COVID vaccination clinic for members of the general public Monday at the fairgrounds in Waterloo. The clinic was for those ages 85 and older as well as medical personnel and emergency responders. A long line of vehicles showed up to the fairgrounds at 9 a.m., but it was cleared by 10:30 a.m. Pictured, Calvin and Gladys Weldele of Waterloo eagerly await their turn for the vaccine. 

Monroe County hosted its first COVID vaccine clinic for members of the general public on Monday.

The county also revealed the process people will use, at least at first, to ensure they get the vaccine if they want it. 

The clinic took place from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the fairgrounds, with over 500 individuals ages 85 and older getting the vaccine. 

“The clinic went great,” Monroe County Health Department Administrator John Wagner said. “It went pretty smoothly.” 

There was a line of vehicles that stretched onto Route 156, but Wagner said that could not be avoided and recommended people take alternate routes to get to Valmeyer on clinic days. 

About 25 percent of those who received the vaccine Monday were not Monroe County residents, per Wagner. 

He said the Illinois Department of Public Health had told him health departments could not turn away Illinois residents because the shot is technically a state and federal one, but that has since changed.

Future vaccine clinics will be only for Monroe County residents, Wagner stressed, while non-residents who got their first shot here can get the second one at the fairgrounds.  

Wagner said he is fine with vaccinating other people if he receives more supply.

“We have the capacity to handle some of the people from outside the county. But if I’m doing 25 percent of the people from Randolph County, send me 25 percent of your vaccine,” Wagner said. 

The first step to getting the vaccine for individuals through the health department is signing up for the Code Red emergency alert system, as that is the way Monroe County will notify individuals when a new shipment of vaccine arrives and who it will be made available to. To sign up for Code Red, click here.

Monroe County is focusing vaccination efforts on the 1b group, which is people ages 65 and older and frontline essential workers like first responders, education providers, food and agriculture workers, manufacturing employees, corrections workers and inmates, United States Postal Service workers, public transit workers, grocery store employees and staff at shelters and day cares.

Within that group, the county is separating people into smaller groups as it prioritizes vaccination. 

The 500 roughly doses administered most recently covered most of the 85 and older group and several police officers, who are getting the vaccine in groups in case any of them must miss work due to side effects. 

“We got through a lot,” Wagner said. “By the end of the day, we had a limited line with cars coming straight up to the vaccination site. Of course, there are always those who missed the clinic, but they’ll be able to come to any subsequent clinic and get it.”

Assuming Monroe County gets enough vaccine doses, next up will be residents over 75 followed by those 65 and older, first responders and education employees. Finally, the rest of those in the 1b group will be eligible to get their shots. 

Anyone who missed the early window for their group can get inoculated during a later one.

Wagner could not estimate how long it will take to complete vaccinations because the allotment of shots from Illinois has been inconsistent. 

There may not be clear breaks between groups within the 1b group, so residents should monitor the Code Red system for alerts about expanded availability on clinic days. 

“It’s a last-minute thing. We don’t know how it’s going to go,” Wagner said. 

At least for these initial groups, it is important to pre-register on EMTrack after signing up for the Code Red system. That does not allow individuals to select a time to get the shot, but it guarantees they will get one. 

“For future clinics, it’s not going to be as important because we’re going to have a higher volume of doses,” Wagner explained. “But for now, when the Code Red goes out, they need to register on EMTrack so they are guaranteed a dose. If you can’t register on EMTrack, it means there’s 500 already signed up and we don’t have enough vaccines.” 

EMTrack is a service used by thousands of health care providers and government agencies that includes a module for managing mass vaccinations in the United States. To register on EMTrack, click here

Monroe County offered paper registration at the fairgrounds for those who were unable to do so online. 

When residents get their first shot, they get a vaccination record card that lists the date they were vaccinated and which vaccine they received, either the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna. 

Individuals must bring that card or a picture of it with them to get their second shot – both vaccines require two doses – so clinic workers know what shot to administer and that the person has received his or her first dose. 

The county is planning to set up a call center to remind health care workers to get their second dose, but it will only use the Code Red system to remind members of the general public. 

Eventually, it will be up to individuals to remember to get their second dose from the nearest clinic in approximately 21 days after getting the Pfizer vaccine or 28 days after getting the Moderna one. 

The date of the next clinic and who can be vaccinated will be determined once Monroe County learns how much vaccine it will get this week. 

Another option to get vaccinated is through BJC HealthCare. It will vaccinate Illinois residents at their facilities, one of which is Memorial Hospital in Belleville. They should not go to Missouri for vaccination. For more on that or to register, click here.

While the process of doling out shots went well Monday, getting them did not. 

Wagner said he spent about over a day trying to talk with the state after Monroe County was originally slated to get only 200 doses of the vaccine last week. 

Neighboring Randolph County – which has less population – got 500, and St. Clair County got 3,600, and the only answer Wagner received for the smaller shipment was that it was “based on data sets.”

“We’re getting shorted, and I’m getting no answer from the state as to why,” Wagner told the Republic-Times Thursday. “It’s almost not even worth us setting up our point of dispensing for the small doses we have. We’re done in an hour. We’re capable of giving 3,000 doses a day out there.” 

Wagner was later told allotments are based on population for this group, but that did not make sense. 

“Either somebody made a mistake or it was wrong,” he said of that logic. 

Later Thursday, the state upped Monroe County’s dose to 600 – about 100 of which went to group homes – but only after Wagner said he spent “a day and a half raising all kinds of hell.” 

The state also did not confirm shipments would remain at this level in the coming weeks. 

“I’m hoping now, with whatever they looked at, they realized there was an issue. Or I’m going to be doing this every week when we get our allocations,” Wagner said. 

If Monroe County had gotten only 200 doses, Wagner said it would have taken a month to vaccinate everyone 85 and older instead of a day. 

“Whatever they’re using, they need to come out and say it,” he said. “Just like anything else, if you can justify it to me I’ll listen to you. I may not agree with it, but at least tell me how you’re doing it so I can put that out to the public.” 

For more on the COVID vaccine in Illinois, click here.

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