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WGLT's reporting on the coronavirus pandemic, which began in McLean County in March 2020.

McLean County Health Care Workers Get First Doses Of COVID Vaccine

Nurse gets a shot
McLean County Health Department / OSF HealthCare
OSF HealthCare St. Joseph Medical Center charge nurse Miranda Dominguez was among the first to receive her COVID-19 vaccine dose on Friday, Dec. 18, 2020.

UPDATED 8:45 p.m. | The first COVID-19 vaccine has officially arrived in McLean County.

Front-line health care workers received their first dose of the Pfizer vaccine on Friday, officials said. McLean County unexpectedly received a "small allotment of unused doses" from a surrounding county, officials said.

OSF St. Joseph Medical Center employees were photographed receiving the vaccine Friday. Carle BroMenn Medical Center staff were expected to get their doses starting Saturday morning.

“Today is a historic moment in public health to be celebrated,” said Jessica McKnight, administrator of McLean County Health Department. “We were not initially expecting to get vaccine with the first shipment, but we also know that where we are located geographically, our hospitals provide care for several of the counties that were on the list.”

McLean County was not on the list of 50 counties in the state with the highest death rates per capita, which is where the first batch of vaccines were sent. Earlier Friday, the health department was still not expecting its first doses until next week.

"But when local public health officials were contacted about the possibility of receiving a small allotment of unused doses from a surrounding county on the list the answer was, of course, yes," the health department said in a statement Friday.

OSF said it moved quickly for state approval to transfer the vaccine after learning Knox County had extra doses. Pfizer sent an extra dose within vials, plus there were additional doses after all 1A tier health care and support personnel received their first shots in the western Illinois region this week, OSF said.

'Light at the end of the tunnel'

OSF Saint Francis Medical Center workers in Peoria were among the first in the country to receive the vaccine on Tuesday. Gov. JB Pritzker was there to mark the occasion.

In Bloomington, the first person to receive the vaccine at OSF St. Joseph Medical Center on Friday was Kristin Wilkins, a critical care advanced practice nurse who works with COVID-19 patients who often need to be put on respirators.

“We’ve been going through quite a bit these last nine months and I think there’s a light at the end of the tunnel," Wilkins said in a statement. "I’m hopeful for the community, for my co-workers, my peers that this is the answer we’ve been looking for."

McKnight says the health department is expecting regular shipments of vaccine going forward, but that the amount of vaccine is limited, and it could take months before it is more widely available.

“We've been talking about a vaccine and anxiously waiting for it for what feels like so long,” McKnight said in a statement. “It’s here, but it doesn’t mean that the fight is over. We are one step closer to the finish line. It will be important that we all continue wearing our face coverings, watching our distance, and washing our hands to protect our loved ones and community until the vaccine becomes more widely available and administered to the general public.”

The news came Friday as the FDA formally authorized a second vaccine for emergency use — this one developed by Moderna. The biotech upstart won authorization for use in adults following extensive federal analysis of the vaccine, which the FDA found to be 94% effective at preventing the disease.

McLean County has seen over 10,500 cases of COVID-19 since March, including 85 deaths.

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