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

Health Department Chief Addresses Confusion, Frustration Surrounding Vaccine

McLean County Health Department sign
Emily Bollinger

McLean County Health Department Administrator Jessica McKnight says she knows the public is tired of the frustration and confusion surrounding vaccine distribution.

So far, more than 14,700 people in McLean County have received a shot. But that’s cold comfort for the thousands who have tried -- and failed -- to snag an appointment at vaccine clinics or pharmacies. 

During a McLean County Board Health Committee meeting on Monday, McKnight said vaccination efforts are being hampered by the fundamental problem of supply and demand. Mass vaccination plans are designed around the idea of mass quantities of a vaccine, she said -- not the limited supplies the county is seeing right now. 

Typically, the McLean County Health Department (MCHD) receives around 1,900 doses of vaccine a week. They are received from the state supply through the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH). McKnight said her department usually is told on Wednesday exactly how many doses it will be allocated for the following week.

As of now, MCHD only knows the number of doses it will have available one week in advance. So, appointments through the health department can’t be scheduled more than one week out. 

McKnight said MCHD appointment slots for the following week are opened up every Thursday, and based directly on the allocation information the department receives on Wednesday. Vaccine shipments usually arrive on Friday.

McKnight said the department wants to avoid problems that have unfolded in other parts of the country, like people camping outside vaccine clinics only to be turned away when the supply runs out.

As for appointments at local pharmacies like Walgreens and CVS, McKnight said they receive their own allotments from federal supplies. Hy-Vee receives its allotment from a state supply, though it’s separate from the county allotment. McKnight said MCHD has no involvement in the pharmacy vaccine programs other than to promote them to the community.

The Biden administration hopes to begin allocating vaccine supplies to states three weeks ahead of time, McKnight said. If that happens, MCHD will be able to start scheduling vaccinations three weeks in advance.

But for now, McLean County residents are left to navigate a confusing system, chasing appointment slots that seem to vanish as quickly as they’re announced. McKnight said though weekly slots fill up very quickly, the department sometimes releases more slots later in the week if it receives extra doses. But the only way to know, she acknowledged, is to continually check the MCHD website. 

McKnight said MCHD is working with county IT to develop better systems of mass communication, including a way for residents to be notified once they’re eligible for the vaccine.

Initially, the department website directed people who wanted to register for notifications to the third-party platform SignUpGenius. But the platform “wasn’t built for what we tried to use it for,” McKnight said, and was quickly overwhelmed. 

County board member Sharon Chung said that when it came to the question of technology, she was concerned about people without easy access to computers or smart phones. 

Chung said the idea that some residents could have easier access to the vaccine than others pointed to an “inherent inequity” that left her heartbroken. 

McKnight said that in addition to a MCHD call center that can help residents schedule appointments, the department was assembling a task force to ensure access to all members of the community. The department also will be holding a town hall meeting on Feb. 22 to address issues like vaccine hesitancy. More details will be forthcoming. 

McKnight wrapped up her remarks by thanking McLean County residents for their patience. 

“There is no perfect solution,” she said. ““We’re getting the vaccine into the arms of McLean County residents as quickly and safely as possible.”

Sarah Nardi is a correspondent at WGLT. She rejoined the station in 2024.