DuPage County to open vaccination site at fairgrounds amid frustration over supply
A COVID-19 testing center in Wheaton will be converted into a vaccination site as DuPage County builds the infrastructure needed for mass immunization and confronts frustration over a vaccine supply overwhelmed by demand.
The DuPage health department next month will move a COVID-19 vaccine clinic at its main office in Wheaton to the county fairgrounds. In preparation for the transition, drive-through testing operations at the fairgrounds will end this week.
The fairgrounds will join a growing list of more than 80 vaccination locations throughout the county.
As seniors and front-line essential workers begin to sign up for appointments, the county's COVID-19 vaccination campaign has been leading the rest of Illinois. More than 1.6% of the population has been fully vaccinated, second only to rural Stark County in central Illinois.
But the amount of vaccine allocated to DuPage has varied widely from week to week. The state earmarked 23,925 doses for the county two weeks into the rollout in December -- or more than double last week's allocation.
"Currently, our supply is rather inconsistent and certainly inefficient, but we are consistently advocating at all levels of government to rectify that situation," DuPage County Board Chairman Dan Cronin said.
The county also has formally requested National Guard support to speed up vaccinations. Adding to the urgency, a more contagious coronavirus variant first identified in the United Kingdom is emerging in Illinois.
"The understanding so far is that the vaccines that we have will still be effective against these viruses," said Dr. Rashmi Chugh, medical officer at the county health department.
Executive Director Karen Ayala also sought to assure the public on several fronts during a briefing to county board members Tuesday, addressing distribution plans and the registration process for the 268,000 people who are now eligible for shots in Phase 1B.
Seniors and front-line essential workers should register for the vaccine through multiple avenues. Health care systems are advising eligible patients to sign up directly using their MyChart account. Pharmacy chains and the county health department have registration portals online.
"It's extremely important to get on a list," Ayala said. "I would encourage people to get on as many lists as they possibly can because it is the same vaccine. It doesn't matter where you get it."
So far, 141,000 residents have registered at the health department's website, Dupagehealth.org. An online form asks for their phone number and email. The county will contact them to schedule an appointment for their first dose of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine.
"When we have clinic availability or any of our partners let us know that they have clinic availability, we can push that information out to people," Ayala said.
Even though the number of vaccination sites had grown from 16 in late December to 83 as of Monday, the vaccine allocation hasn't kept pace. Not all of the sites have access to shots because of scarce supplies, Ayala said.
"It's not that the more vaccine sites we have, the more vaccine we get," Ayala said in an interview. "We're given a set number of vaccines on a weekly basis, and then we allocate those across those sites."
The state health department determines the number of doses going to DuPage.
"Every week, we have received a different amount of vaccine," Ayala said. "We've been told for the last four weeks that our supply levels will be consistent or kind of in a maintenance mode, but that has not been the case."
The county estimates it will take about three months to vaccinate the 268,000 people within Phase 1B. The county would look to advance to the next wave of inoculations if at least 60% to 70% are vaccinated in the current phase and if vaccine supplies increase.
"What we need to ask for is understanding as we work through and address this very unpredictable vaccine supply issue," Ayala said.