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'Vaccine Envy' And Some Frustration Amid Slow Rollout In McLean County

Signage outside arena
Emily Bollinger
The county health department's vaccine clinics have filled up quick due to limited supply.

Larry Sears has been on a wild goose chase this week.

The 75-year-old retired teacher from Normal wants his first COVID vaccine dose—and he is eligible to get one. So he’s stalking the McLean County Health Department website. He stayed up till midnight hoping to be first in the digital line for an appointment at Hy-Vee. He checked in with his doctor’s office.

But he hasn’t had any luck yet, even though many of his friends have.

“I’m not begrudging them as being lucky enough to get that done, but it’s making my patience wear very thin for myself because I can’t get it done, and I don’t consider myself as someone who is inept,” said Sears, who has a heart arrhythmia known as AFib. “It’s a mess.”

Sears is among tens of thousands of people in McLean County who are eligible for the vaccine right now but can’t get a dose due to limited supplies. There are about 50,000 people here in Phase 1A and 1B, and about 13,557 doses have been administered, according to state data. The county’s rate of fully vaccinated people (1.2%), trails the statewide average of 1.5%.

Some of those people say they’re getting frustrated, and not just at the lack of supply.

Several people told WGLT they think the county health department’s vaccine clinics webpage is difficult to use. Appointments obviously fill up fast. The site tells Phase 1B people they can leave their name and contact information on a signup page, so they can be notified about upcoming clinics. That takes them to a SignUpGenius page. But that page, as of Friday night, was no longer accepting signups. “NO SLOTS AVAILABLE. SIGN UP IS FULL.”

Others have had trouble reaching someone or leaving a voicemail at the health department’s designated hot line (309-888-5600), and getting timely responses to email inquiries.

Still others are getting a sense of false hope from the Illinois Department of Public Health’s coronavirus website, which lists three Jewel-Osco locations and a Hy-Vee in Bloomington-Normal as offering vaccine appointments. Multiple people told WGLT the local Jewel-Oscos aren’t taking appointments now or don’t have even vaccines to give.

"There is no availability at this time," Jewel-Osco's website says when you try to book an appointment in Bloomington-Normal.

Larry Sears, the retired teacher, says he’s no luddite. He’s spent the week on his iPad, surfing from website to website, trying to find an appointment.

He said he feels some “vaccine envy” when he hears about his friends who’ve successfully received their first dose. What would be great, he said, is if the health department would just give him an appointment way down the road, even late February or March.

"I don't want to be thrown all over to all these different websites."

“And if we had those dates, that would certainly alleviate a little stress instead of having to continually check all of these (websites) every day,” Sears said.

Jeff Faulk, 66, of Normal, has been stuck in a similar loop.

Faulk said he thinks the county’s website is hard to use, and the ads he saw on the SignUpGenius page he reached were a confusing distraction. He also checked at Hy-Vee and the Jewel-Osco on Cottage Avenue—with no success. And he couldn’t figure out how to sign up for an upcoming clinic at Normal Township’s Activity and Recreation Center (ARC).

“I don’t mind being on a waiting list, but I don’t want to be thrown all over to all these different websites,” Faulk said.

Others have been derailed by their own small missteps that became high-stakes near-misses.

“I came very close to getting an appointment with Hy-Vee last night, but because of my own oversight I didn't have my insurance card ready to upload and lost my time selection,” Andrea Banicki told WGLT on Friday. “It was after midnight, not my best time of day for clarity.”

Sara Garrett, 66, of Bloomington, is extremely frustrated — including a little with herself. She was busy with some volunteer work Thursday at 11 a.m. when the county opened up appointments for a Feb. 3 clinic. When she tried to sign up at 11:45 a.m., it was full.

Garrett said she is registered with Hy-Vee and Meijer, who she hopes will contact her when they receive doses. Her healthcare provider, OSF Healthcare, told her they’re only vaccinating people at high risk right now and that she’d be next in line after them.

“I realize that these are very unusual circumstances, but maybe this would be a good time to hire more staff at the McLean County Health Department,” Garrett said.

The county expects to get about 1,900 COVID vaccine doses next week. That does not include doses that may go to grocery stores and pharmacies.

Simply put, vaccine demand still far exceeds supply.

“We definitely understand the public’s frustration,” said MCHD administrator Jessica McKnight.

The health department previously said it planned to announce at least three vaccination clinics in conjunction with Carle BroMenn Medical Center in Normal. As of Friday afternoon, only one clinic had been posted on the department’s website. McKnight said the health department may add clinics once they are assured there is enough for everyone who is due for a second dose.

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Ryan Denham is the digital content director for WGLT.
Eric Stock is the News Director at WGLT. You can contact Eric at ejstoc1@ilstu.edu.