URBANA – Despite more Champaign County residents becoming eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, one-third of health care personnel in the county still aren’t vaccinated due to their own concerns about the vaccine, according to the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District (CUPHD).
Champaign County is currently in the middle of Phase 1b of its vaccine rollout plan, and those currently eligible include residents 65 years or older with underlying health conditions. Frontline health care workers were part of Phase 1a — the very first group with vaccine access.
“I would say about a third of the population has this hesitancy about the vaccine,” says Awais Vaid, Deputy Director of CUPHD. “[They] are basically wanting to wait and watch for maybe a month to see how the rollout goes, if there are any serious adverse effects, if there are complications.”
According to a December survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation, 27% of the American population said they “probably or definitely would not get a COVID-19 vaccine even if it were available for free and deemed safe by scientists.” 29% of health care workers nationwide expressed vaccine hesitancy.
Vaid says he’s not surprised.
“The hesitancy does come from the fact that the federal government has not had a consistent message all along,” he says. “It creates confusion and doubts in the minds of people about how the vaccine was created. Was it safe? How is it possible that we can have a vaccine in less than a year?”
He emphasized the fact that local, state and national experts have vouched for the safety and efficacy of the vaccine.
“We’re hoping that people who are hesitant make up their mind pretty quick and get us on the [right] path,” he says.
Demand for the vaccine is still very high though, according to Vaid. Because Phase 1b is made up of tens of thousands of Champaign County residents — including frontline essential workers and everyone 65 years or older — CUPHD made the decision to break up Phase 1b into sub-groups.
“The reason for that was because of the limited number of vaccines that we are receiving every week,” says Vaid. “If we open it up for everyone over 65, it would have led to a lot of wait listings, and we would not have known when the next allocation of vaccines would come for Champaign County.”
Currently, those 65 years or older with underlying health conditions, as well as anyone 75 years or older, are eligible to receive the vaccine (you can sign up for an appointment here). Vaid says he expects anyone 65 years or older, with or without underlying health conditions, will be eligible in the coming weeks. He says those decisions are based on how many vaccine doses they receive week-to-week.
Vaid also says the county is being diligent about planning for those who are in need of their second vaccine dose when the time comes.
“When we plan one week of clinics, we are planning a similar clinic with the same staffing ratio and the same number of vaccines for, you know, four weeks after the first dose,” he says.
The county currently has two vaccination clinics in town and Vaid says there are plans in the works to open one more in the village of Rantoul. He says they are also planning to form mobile strike teams that will go out into neighborhoods to vaccinate more vulnerable, hard-to-reach populations.
According to Vaid, CUPHD has been flooded with calls and voicemails from those interested in receiving the vaccine. He encourages county residents to remain patient.
“Our goal as public health officials is to administer as many vaccines as we receive from the state,” he says. “Just be patient.”
Dana Cronin is a reporter for Illinois Newsroom. Follow her on Twitter: @DanaHCronin