(TNS) - St. Clair County has administered nearly 126,000 COVID-19 vaccines since mid-December, but the problem is no longer about the supply — it's the demand, public health officials said Tuesday.
A lot of people still don't know that anyone over 16 who lives, works or attends school in Illinois is eligible. Or they don't know how to schedule an appointment, St. Clair County Chairman Mark Kern said during a virtual town hall with local legislators and vaccination effort leaders. Only 20% of the population in St. Clair County has been fully vaccinated.
"I don't even think it's a question of the shots anymore," Kern said. "I think it's a question of demand, and getting people there."
As growing COVID-19 infection rates and the spread of variants threaten progress toward full economic reopening in Illinois, the need to vaccinate more people becomes increasingly urgent.
Illinoisans grew accustomed to constantly changing eligibility rules in the past few months as the state and local health departments opened up vaccinations to different demographic groups.
People got so used to the idea of vaccine shortages and restrictions that they might have stopped trying, said St. Clair County Emergency management Agency Director Herb Simmons.
"Now we just gotta get it back on their minds," Simmons said.
St. Clair and Madison counties opened up their borders, as have other downstate counties such as Adams County. Chicagoans, struggling to schedule an appointment in the city, were traveling hours to southern Illinois, The Chicago Tribune reported Wednesday.
And there's plenty available.
The mass vaccination site at Belle-Clair Fairgrounds could easily give shots to 4,000 people a day if that many were scheduling appointments, Kern said. Countywide, St. Clair was averaging 2,141 daily doses administered as of Wednesday at both public and private vaccination sites, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.
Only 1,100 people had scheduled appointments for Wednesday at the fairgrounds, according to the emergency management director.
"Sure, there's a percentage not ready to get it yet for whatever reason, but I think the big problem we're seeing is they're not getting the message," Simmons said.
What's southwest Illinois doing to spread the word about vaccines?
Southwestern Illinois leaders have begun shifting their focus from a daily fight for vaccines to getting people signed up for appointments.
It's just a matter of how.
Kern floated the idea of more advertising on television and social media. St. Clair County paid for an ad with six-time Olympic gold medalist Jackie Joyner-Kersee of East St. Louis, Kern said. Advertising on social media could help reach younger populations.
But they're also focused on targeting specific groups through mobile vaccination clinics. The county health department has renewed efforts to reach the homebound, senior citizens and those in congregate-living settings, Kern said.
State Rep. LaToya Greenwood (D- East St. Louis) asked health officials on the town hall meeting what they are doing to assist Black and Brown communities in scheduling appointments and to address vaccine hesitancy.
The East Side Health District has done clinics specifically for manufacturing employees, school districts and public transit workers. Their model is "taking the services to the people," said East Side program manager Angela Clark.
"If they see our faces and that we are the ones there to give them this service, ... they know that they have more trust," Clark said. "We want to be sure that they realize we are here for them."
Businesses and other organizations can schedule a site visit by calling the East Side Health District at 618-271-8722 or 618-874-4713. The same goes for St. Clair County by calling the health department's hotline at 618-509-6010 or 618-825-4447.
How do I get a COVID vaccine in southwest Illinois?
The St. Clair County mass vaccination site is open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day except for Wednesdays. The site will be closed on Easter Sunday. The county's vaccination site at 330 W. Main is open 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Anyone 16 and older and who lives, works or attends school in Illinois can register for appointments in St. Clair County by visiting the county's website at co.st-clair.il.us/departments/health-department/covid-19-information. The site also has links for scheduling appointments at Memorial Hospitals in Belleville and Shiloh, and at HSHS St. Elizabeth's Hospital in O'Fallon.
Anyone who needs assistance or doesn't have internet can call the county vaccine hotline at 618-509-6010 or 618-825-4447. Spanish translators are available.
For those who need to use public transit, there's a bus traveling directly from the Belleville Scheel Street MetroLink station to the fairgrounds. People arriving for appointments by public transit will receive their shots inside the fairground building.
To sign up for a vaccine appointment in Madison County, visit co.madison.il.us/departments/health. Those without computer access may call 618-650-8445 for help scheduling an appointment.
The East Side Health District gets the vaccine out to East St. Louis-area residents at three sites they visit weekly: the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Center ( Argonne Drive, East St Louis, IL 62204), the Clyde C. Jordan Senior Citizens Center ( 6755 State St., East St Louis, IL 62203) and the Fairmont City Community Center ( 4001 Cookson Rd., Fairmont City, IL 62201).
The district also hosts clinics at their main location at 650 North 20th St. in East St. Louis. Appointments can be made by calling 618-271-8722 or 618-874-4713.
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