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1B COVID Vaccine Rollout Starts Strong In Peoria Area

By the end of this week, the first few thousand residents of Peoria, Tazewell, and Woodford Counties in the 1B group will have received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.Local health departments are allocating their vaccine shipments to OSF HealthCare, UnityPoint Health, and Heartland Health Services for wider distribution to the 1B population.

That population is a large group, and the process will take quite a while, said Peoria City/County Health Department Administrator Monica Hendrickson.

"With the amount of allocation that we're getting, which is limited, if we as a Tri-County see anywhere between three and four thousand vaccines coming into our counties each week, it will take us over eight weeks to vaccinate that population," she said. "So the short answer is, we need patience during this time."

The Tri-County area's population over age 65 is more than 64,000 people. And that doesn't include all of the frontline, non-healthcare workers -- like grocery store workers, first responders, postal service workers, and transit employees -- who also fall into in the 1B group.

Dr. Samer Sader, Chief Medical Officer for UnityPoint Health's three Central Illinois hospitals, said more than 2,000 people were vaccinated at their new 1B clinic this week.

"We actually went from just counting the number of people in the hospital, and the number of people that have passed away, to counting the number of people that we're vaccinating," Sader said. "So we're going on the offensive. And this actually feels quite good."

Sader said it feels like the days of treading water during the pandemic are finally ending, and a move back to something closer to normal is kicking off.

Sarah Overton, OSF HealthCare's chief nursing officer for multispeciality services, said they've reached out to more than 6,000 people in Peoria County, and close to 1,500 in Tazewell County. Since starting 1B vaccinations about four days ago, about 1,500 received vaccines at OSF's Peoria clinic, and an additional 400 at the Tazewell clinic.

For all vaccine-distributing entities in the Peoria area,  the message is the same for those seeking out a shot: don't call us, we'll call you.

"Don't come if we don't call you. It's not an open window or a walk-in clinic," said Sader. "Just show up when we call you. We'll give you an appointment. It's very orderly. And within 20 minutes, you can probably be out of our vaccination area."

Both hospital systems are vaccinating through an appointment-based process, rather than a first-come, first-served approach. This has allowed Peoria to dodge the long lines seen some other communities, such as those seen in Galesburg on Thursday.

"We've built a very automated system through our OSF MyChart application, which allows the patient to self-schedule," Overton said. "They answer a series of questionaires to ensure they are the right patient for the vaccine. It's been very orderly."

Overton said OSF is using a ranking system to determine which patients are offered the vaccine first. It weighs health risk factors like the patient's age, as well as any comorbidities like diabetes, hypertension, or obesity.

"Essentially, we take those mixed models, and we start our outreach at our most sickest patients, and we work down the line," she said. "So right now, we are down to basically two or three comorbidities. So we've reached out to all the patients who have the highest amount of disease, if you will, to start with. That's how we're approaching it. It seems to be working well."

Sader said age is one of UnityPoint's main factors, as well.

"If we look at the hospital and who gets the sickest and requires the most assistance in the hospital, age is one of the main determining factors, regardless of all other comorbidities," he said.

Sader said maximizing the usage of the allocated vaccine doses is another factor weighed in determining who may receive the vaccine first. The vaccine has a short shelf life.

For those who don't have a medical provider, Heartland Health Services is taking the lead. The federally-qualified health center is receiving its first allocation of the COVID-19 vaccine for its 1B population next week.

"We will move just as quickly as we can," said Heartland Health Services CEO Sharon Adams. "We're just starting next week. It's a very small amount. Hopefully, that will increase, and we'll be able to up the volumes that we're able to do."

Overton said most people called up to get vaccined are "delighted."

"They're telling us things like, they haven't seen their families for a year. They haven't seen their grandchildren for a year. This is their opportunity to get back to a normal life," she said. "Really, some of them have also talked about a 'gift.' This is such a gift to them. One patient, it actually was her birthday when she came in, and she said it's the best birthday present she's ever experienced."

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