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Illinois Expands COVID Vaccine Eligibility; Appointments Hard To Get In McLean County

sign at vaccination clinic
Emily Bollinger
The McLean County Health Department COVID vaccination clinics at Grossinger Motors Arena are not yet open to Phase 1B Plus.

The state of Illinois is expanding eligibility for the COVID-19 vaccine starting Thursday, but people with underlying medical conditions will likely still have a difficult time getting the vaccine in McLean County.Even pharmacies that have said they plan to offer the vaccine on the state’s timeline already are booked days or weeks in advance.

The McLean County Health Department  (MCHD) has said it won’t expand eligibility at its clinics until vaccines are more widely available.

The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) lists four Walgreens locations in Bloomington-Normal that are distributing COVID vaccines, but none have appointments available for the next three days, according to its website.

A company representative said Walgreens expects to get 480,000 vaccine doses this week through the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program, but it’s not clear how many will be coming to McLean County.

“Walgreens has continually doubled their allocations week over week of vaccine available in Illinois," said  spokesperson Campbell O’Connor.

Hy-Vee stores have received COVID vaccines at Bloomington and 15 other store locations in Illinois, said  public relations director Christina Gayman.

She said the grocery store plans to offer vaccines to those in the expanded Phase 1B category, starting March 1 and has started taking appointments.

“We receive weekly allocations from IDPH, so if people in 1B Plus begin scheduling appointment with us starting (Thursday), we will vaccinate them. However, the issue here will likely be the lack of available appointments prior to March 1 because our scheduler books out five days at a time,” Gayman said.

A spokesperson for Kroger stores said all appointments at its Bloomington-Normal locations are booked through the middle of next week, and it’s not clear when the grocery chain will offer vaccines to the expanded 1B population.

“Right now, we are evaluating our scheduling system to ensure it is compatible with the new eligibility timeline ahead of March 1,” said Eric Halvorson, manager of corporate affairs.

Dozens of Jewel-Osco pharmacies are listed by IDPH as COVID vaccination sites and the company’s website indicates it is accepting patients in Phase 1B Plus, but no appointments are available.

CVS Health pharmacies also have not expanded eligibility, according to its website. The nearest CVS location that offers the vaccine is in Pekin. According to the CVS website, all appointments are booked.

For people willing to drive outside of McLean County, the Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield has a mass vaccination site. It is run by the Sangamon County Health Department with help from the Illinois National Guard. The clinic is open to people from across the state of Illinois.

A representative at the site said the clinic plans to vaccinate those in the expanded 1B group, but because of a shortage of vaccines, the clinic isn’t scheduling any new appointments.

According to the IDPH, underlying health conditions that would qualify under the expanded Phase 1B include:

  • Cancer
  • Chronic Kidney Disease
  • COPD (Cardio Obstructive Pulmonary Disease)
  • Diabetes
  • Heart Condition
  • Immunocompromised state from a solid organ transplant
  • Obesity
  • Pregnancy
  • Pulmonary Disease
  • Sickle Cell Disease

Illinois put a record 130,000 vaccines into arms on Wednesday. Gov. JB Pritzker said the federal government plans to increase its daily vaccine distribution to the state of Illinois by 100,000 by mid-March.

Pritzker added once the latest vaccine from Johnson & Johnson gets federal approval, that would significantly increase vaccine distribution. That could come as early as this week.

According to IPDH, 31,216 vaccines have been administered in McLean County, and about 5% of the state and county populations have received both doses.

IDPH said there are close to 3,300 vaccines available in McLean County, inclduding those administered by the health department and other sites. 

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Eric Stock is the News Director at WGLT. You can contact Eric at ejstoc1@ilstu.edu.
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