CHAMPAIGN — More than a month after COVID-19 vaccinations got underway, a Champaign long-term-care facility serving medically fragile people with developmental disabilities still has about two more weeks to wait.
Swann Special Care Center in Champaign is currently waiting on a Feb. 10 appointment with Walgreens to administer the first vaccine doses to its residents, according to Executive Director Kimberly Halberstadt.
“It should have happened at the beginning of January,” she said.
Long-term-care residents were included in Phase 1A of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, along with health care workers.
But vaccinations of long-term-care residents aren’t under the control of county health departments. They’re being handled separately by Walgreens and CVS pharmacies through Illinois’ participation in the federal government’s Vaccine Partnership Program.
The national program for long-term-care facilities got underway Dec. 21 for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and a week later for the Moderna vaccine.
As of Thursday, 131,284 of Illinois’ 496,100 vaccine doses allotted for long-term-care vaccinations had been administered, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.
Meanwhile, the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District is well into Phase 1B, with vaccine clinics for older adults wrapping up this week and plans to move on to vaccinations for teachers.
Halberstadt said she doesn’t blame Walgreens for the delay in getting to Swann Special Care Center. But the wait has been worrisome, she said.
There have been staff COVID-19 cases at that facility, though the safety protocols being followed have prevented COVID-19 cases among residents, Halberstadt said.
Swann Special Care has 60 to 70 residents fed through gastrostomy tubes and about 14 residents breathing with the help of tracheotomies, she said.
“Our people are very medically fragile,” Halberstadt said.
Frustrated by the slow pace of COVID-19 vaccinations at local long-term-care facilities, the health district offered to take over long-term-care vaccinations in Champaign County itself.
The state agreed with the plan last week, health district Administrator Julie Pryde said, but when her agency called nursing homes to offer assistance, they declined.
“We contacted every single place last week when we were going to go in and do it ourselves, and they just didn’t want it,” she said.
That’s likely because long-term-care facilities were reluctant to give up the vaccination appointment dates they’ve been waiting on with CVS or Walgreens, Pryde said.
Not only that, she said, switching vaccination providers would have involved more paperwork, such as obtaining new consent forms for residents being vaccinated.
At this point, Pryde said all long-term-care facilities in Champaign County still waiting have vaccine appointments lined up by Feb. 12.
At least some facilities in the area haven’t had much of a wait.
Employees and Meadowbrook Health Center residents at Clark-Lindsey Village, Urbana, got their first vaccine doses Jan. 4 and second doses Jan. 25, according to Karen Blatzer, its director of marketing. Independent-living residents at Clark-Lindsey will get their first vaccine doses Saturday, she said.
“We were very happy with how quickly we got it,” she said.
All of Ford County’s nursing-home residents have already gotten their first vaccine doses, according to Megan Reutter, community health educator with the county’s public health department.
The first vaccine doses were given to employees and residents at Accolade Healthcare of Paxton on Pells, a 106-bed skilled-nursing facility in Paxton, on Jan. 16, said Administrator Neki Patel.
“It was a really smooth process,” she said.
The Vermilion County Health Department is currently focused on getting its vaccine share out to the community and leaving long-term-care vaccinations in the state’s hands, Administrator Doug Toole said.
State Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, called the delay in long-term-care vaccinations “incredibly heartbreaking and frustrating.”
He said it’s also getting ridiculous given that the state has the doses on hand to complete most of those vaccinations.
Rose has called on Gov. J.B. Pritzker to do as Florida has and take over the vaccination process from CVS and Walgreens.
He also noted that the Illinois National Guard was deployed to distribute vaccines in Chicago weeks ago and questioned why a similar move hasn’t been made for East Central Illinois.
“Are our downstate citizens not entitled to equal attention,” he said.
Rose said he’s heard from upset family members of people living in long-term-care facilities about the fact that older adults living in their own homes have been able to get vaccinated while many in long-term care are still waiting.
“The single most vulnerable population is being left behind,” he said.
Garth Reynolds, executive director of the Illinois Pharmacists Association, said it has encouraged the state health department to use all pharmacists in the state to administer the vaccine, especially given that many rural areas aren’t served by large chain pharmacies.
He noted that Phase 1B is one of the largest cohorts for vaccination, and this phase “is going to take a long time.”
The state needs Walgreens and CVS involved in vaccinations, Reynolds said, but it also needs other pharmacists to get the job done.
“We have pharmacists who are ready, willing and able to give the vaccine as soon as they’re provided the vaccine,” he said.
Andy Hudson, owner of Hudson Drug Shop in Paxton, said his store is lined up to begin offering vaccinations when Illinois moves into Phase 2, “but we wanted to start earlier.”
The Ford County Health Department has done a good job getting the county’s vaccine distributed quickly, he said. But it’s been frustrating when about 30 customers a day ask when his pharmacy, which has enough staff available to do the job now will begin offering vaccinations.
At this point, Hudson is planning to line up a site in the community large enough to enable social distancing when it’s able to begin vaccinations, and also plans to roll out mobile vaccination clinics in counties without drugstores, he said.