Evanston Begins Vaccinating Non-Hospital Health Care Workers

Jonah Meadows

EVANSTON, IL — As Evanston begins to vaccinate people besides paramedics and hospital-based health care workers, residents are signing up to receive updates on when and where they will be eligible to receive a coronavirus vaccine.

The COVID-19 vaccine rollout is being divided into multiple phases, with each state responsible for making its own determinations about which groups to prioritize based on federal recommendations.

The first phase, Phase 1a, is limited to health care workers and residents and staff of long-term care facilities. Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced Wednesday that Phase 1b in Illinois will include everyone over 65, as well as groups considered to be front-line essential workers and incarcerated people.

As of Wednesday, Evanston's health department has received 3,550 doses of COVID-19 vaccine, with 2,765 of those doses provided to hospitals, health care providers and fire department paramedics. The first few allocations went entirely to Evanston Hospital, and last week the first jabs delivered directly by city staff were given to paramedics.

City staff began administering doses Thursday to non-hospital and community-based health care workers by appointment at the Levy Center. Health department staff expect to administer 500 doses to such workers this week.

The first group of health care workers who work outside of hospitals received their first doses of COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic organized by Evanston's Health and Human Services Department. (City of Evanston)
The first group of health care workers who work outside of hospitals received their first doses of COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic organized by Evanston's Health and Human Services Department. (City of Evanston)

Also Thursday, city officials announced a new COVID-19 Vaccination Interest Form that will give those who live and work in Evanston the chance to register their interest in receiving a COVID-19 vaccine. While the form will not register people for an appointment to receive the vaccine, signing up will allow local public health officials to gauge public interest and better understand community needs.

"We're asking questions about what's your age, what's your occupation, do you have any high-risk medical conditions," Greg Olsen, public health manager at the Evanston Health and Human Services Department told Patch. "So from that list we can see who belongs in what phase and then once that phase gets activated we can reach out to them directly."

Separately, state officials have begun training health departments on how to work with a new vaccine module in a state system called EMTrack.

"It can be used to schedule vaccination events for eligible populations within a given phase, allow people to register for the event, upload individuals’ vaccination information, and send reminders for the second dose appointment," said Melany Arnold, spokesperson for the Illinois Department of Public Health. The rollout of the system is expected in the coming days, she told Patch in an email.

Olsen said the new system will be used for setting up appointments at point of dispensary, or POD, clinics operated by the municipal health department, one of just three independent departments in suburban Cook County.

"Right now, we have to input each individual vaccination into the state's database," he said. "It's just tedious and it takes a lot of time, whereas with EMTrack, all that stuff will be uploaded, as we go, automatically into the state database. So that saves up a lot of administrative time after the clinic."

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Olsen said health department staff are discussing other potential locations for vaccination clinics with other providers in the area.

"Because we have to think about individuals with mobility issues who can't come to the POD, we need to have a task force where they can go out into the field and actually go into these institutions or facilities to vaccinate the needs out in the community," he said.

The Cook County Department of Public Health, which covers the county's suburbs other of Skokie, Evanston, Oak Park and Stickney Township, launched its own survey last week. Evanston city staff asked residents to complete the city's form rather than the county's. Households with more than one person in them should complete them individually.

Although local health departments are responsible for administering the vaccine, it is up to state public health officials to determine when it is possible to move from Phase 1a to 1b and from Phase 1b to 1c.

That means health departments that vaccinate all their Phase 1a front-line health care workers more quickly will have to wait for the rest of the state to catch before expanding availability to seniors and essential workers.

Olsen, the city's public health manager, said Wednesday city officials were working to determine how many Evanstonians fit into Phase 1a as they awaited information from the state about how many doses would be available next week.

"The state pretty much tells you, 'OK, your jurisdiction is allowed to have this many vaccines this week, can you handle it?' and we say 'yes' or 'no,' and they ship you what they have available at the time," he said. "But as vaccine becomes more and more available, each provider will be able to order their own and it will be shipped to them directly."

This article originally appeared on the Evanston Patch