County quietly changed policy for leftover vaccines

New drive-thru appointments available

click to enlarge Parking spots designated for those awaiting leftover shots at the SCDPH vaccine clinic on South Grand Avenue East. - PHOTO BY RACHEL OTWELL
Photo By Rachel Otwell
Parking spots designated for those awaiting leftover shots at the SCDPH vaccine clinic on South Grand Avenue East.

The COVID-19 vaccination clinic at the Sangamon County Department of Public Health has a new process for giving out doses left at the end of each day, department director Gail O'Neill confirmed March 8.

For about the last week and a half, the first nine cars lining up at 2 p.m. at the health department's building on South Grand Avenue East are given a numbered parking spot to await leftover doses. The clinic could have up to nine extra doses, but can't guarantee if or how many it will have each day.

Each person wanting to get a shot should still meet the state's current eligibility requirements, O'Neill said. The criteria include medical professionals, some essential workers, seniors 65 and older and adults with some underlying conditions.

The same policy is in place at the Illinois National Guard site at the state fairgrounds, but with five spots instead of nine. O'Neill said the health department did not announce the change to the public because just a handful of appointments could be available and they didn't want to make people wait for no reason.

"We were waiting to see if it worked without confusion or problem," O'Neill said. "There's a risk that you sit in the car and don't get vaccinated. It all just depends each day." The Moderna vaccine, which the health department is administering at its clinic, comes in vials of 10 doses. If clinic personnel have to open a vial to give a shot for the last appointment, there would be nine left over. Once the vial is open, doses must be administered within six hours, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which is primarily used at the fairgrounds, is distributed in vials of six and also must be used within six hours of opening. The previous policy for leftover doses, outlined in a county communication from January, was to call from a list of first responders, including law enforcement, because they could get to the clinic quickly, as well as teachers and other school personnel who signed up.

But O'Neill said the list had grown short, and many of those the department reached out to weren't able to get to the clinic quickly enough. She said staff at the drive-thru clinic reported people driving up to ask about extra doses, and the numbered parking spots is the solution the department devised. "It was really a time-consuming project to try to go through a list and maybe call 100 people so that you can get four or five doses," O'Neill said.

On March 9 a county spokesperson announced new appointments available for the drive-thru vaccination clinic on South Grand. "The new first-dose appointments are for March 16-April 30. Second-dose appointments will extend through May 29. In total, 12,000 appointments will be available," a statement read. The appointments can be made at scdph.org.

O'Neill encouraged residents who have trouble booking appointments online to call the hotline because there are frequently new slots available due to cancellations and no-shows. Once appointments are full, the website regularly updates with limited new appointments. The number for the Illinois National Guard clinic is 217-210-8801, and for the county's clinic it is 217-321-2606.

Mary Hansen is a reporter for NPR Illinois. Contact her at mhans6@uis.edu. Rachel Otwell, associate editor for Illinois Times, contributed to this report.

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