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McHenry County lags behind state, other counties in COVID-19 vaccine rollout

McHenry County didn’t receive vaccines when the state first began divvying them up to local health departments back in December, but one Northwestern University scholar said enough time has passed that McHenry County shouldn’t be so far behind the state in distributing vaccines to residents.

As of Friday, about 3.89% of McHenry County residents were fully vaccinated, meaning they’ve received both doses required for the vaccines they received, Illinois Department of Public Health data shows. Statewide that number was 5.27%.

Hani Mahmassani, the director of Northwestern’s transportation center who has been studying the paths of vaccines from their manufacturers into people’s arms, said getting doses to states has gone smoothly, but he’s found some notable differences between the status of rollouts at the local level.

“Where there has been the most variability has been locally. Every state is doing it differently. Every county is doing it differently. Signing up has been stressful to say the least,” Mahmassani said Wednesday. “The rate of vaccination is lower than can be supported by the availability of the vaccine.”

McHenry County may be starting to catch up to the rest of Illinois, though.

The McHenry County Department of Health this week received a vaccine shipment from the state with both last week’s doses, delayed by winter weather conditions across the country, as well as this week’s, McHenry County Public Health Administrator Melissa Adamson said in an interview. The shipment also contained more doses than the state officials had promised.

The share of McHenry County residents fully vaccinated also grew a bit faster than the state as a whole between Wednesday and Thursday but the state grew fast Thursday to Friday.

“We are getting those vaccines into arms as soon as possible,” Adamson said Wednesday. “We really are not sitting on vaccine.”

Plus, thousands of local teachers, who were given their initial shots earlier this month during mass prophylaxis events in area schools, are set to receive their second doses and enter the fully vaccinated category over the coming weeks.

Out of the county’s total COVID-19 vaccine inventory as of Wednesday of 9,700 doses, 3,200 were held for second shots at school-based clinics, Adamson said.

Preschool and daycare workers who supervise children too young for kindergarten were included in the mass vaccination events for educators, too, Adamson said.

“There has been a real desire and push by our community to get kids back in school,” Adamson said. “There is a strong argument there to get teachers vaccinated, get staff vaccinated, get day cares vaccinated to help support our society moving back in the direction of becoming open and some semblance of normalcy. One thing that also helps is the schools were instrumental in hosting, organizing and planning those points of dispensing.”

The rest of the allocation consists of 2,510 doses that will be transferred to community vaccination partners, including the county jail, and another 3,120 for McHenry County Department of Health clinics, Adamson said. That will leave 870 doses in the county’s stock.

Availability of the vaccine locally remains a barrier to performing more mass vaccination events, Adamson said in a Wednesday interview, but her department is ready to scale up as soon as more vaccine enters the county.

Local health departments, including McHenry County’s, have said they had not been given enough information from the state on the number of doses in their scheduled vaccine shipments in order to book inoculation appointments more than a few days in advance, something Adamson said the state has promised to change.

But Mahmassani said he thinks they should have known enough to ballpark estimate how many shots they could safely assign to individuals for a clinic three weeks in advance, for example.

Inviting some people to sign up for clinics three weeks out, Mahmassani said, would help to ease the logjams of internet users trying to sign up for the limited appointments offered through pharmacies like Walgreens and CVS to eligible populations.

Crowding websites for booking scarce shot time slots through pharmacies has become an “unfair” mechanism, he said.

“It’s taxing people who are vulnerable, in some cases who do not have the tech savviness,” Mahmassani said. “… Frankly, if they had more of that vaccine going through the Walgreens and pharmacies and primary care providers, we probably would have been vaccinating people at a faster rate.”

The county did not take that approach because they didn’t want to have people show up to a clinic and not have a dose for them, Adamson said. She also noted that the number of first doses the department received has varied.

“The scaling up, we’re ready and prepared to do that, once we start getting sufficient supply and consistency,” Adamson said.

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Beyond the mass vaccination events for educators, the McHenry County Health Department also allocated a share of its doses to area health care systems, which are able to analyze their patient pools in order to effectively prioritize those 65 and older who are most at risk of severe COVID-19 symptoms for vaccination, Adamson said.

The existing relationship between the health care providers and their patients, including access to private patient medical records, is an advantage for having health care providers administer the doses the health department provides, Adamson said.

The county health department has also been making appointments available to those 65 and older registered with it. The emails are sent to randomly selected email addresses for those that fall within that priority group, a department spokeswoman said.

Naoko Muramatsu, a professor of community health sciences at the University of Illinois Chicago School of Public Health who researches aging and access to and quality of health services, said having a mix of ways to get the vaccine is a good thing.

Since different hospitals may prioritize who they will vaccinate slightly differently, it is good to have the randomized appointment selection by the McHenry County health department as well as the somewhat competitive online sign-up process for shots from the pharmacies that have limited supplies, Muramatsu said.

“It’s good that you have multiple systems because, definitely, there is no perfect way to prioritize,” Muramatsu said. “Some people may get prioritized at the hospital, but somebody else not getting that priority, if they have another way to get the vaccine, then that may be a good thing as well.”

Northwestern Medicine, which has hospitals in Huntley, McHenry and Woodstock, is inviting patients individually to sign up for vaccine appointments, spokeswoman Michelle Green said earlier this month. Its approach in selecting patients takes into consideration where patients live.

“(O)ur patient vaccination distribution plan includes patients in high hardship ZIP codes that have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19,” she said in an email. “We believe it is important to vaccinate this patient population to limit the spread of the virus, lessen the need for hospitalization, and hopefully reduce the number of fatalities.”

Source: The Daily Chronicle

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