Lake County Fairgrounds becomes a drive-through vaccination center
Drive-through shots begin at Lake fairgrounds
Idled by COVID-19, the spacious Expo Hall at the Lake County Fairgrounds in Grayslake has been transformed into a centralized, drive-through vaccination center.
From ultracold storage to thawing, mixing and delivering syringes filled with vaccines into arms, the controlled system is meant to maximize the number of shots given.
"This site is going to give us a lot more opportunity to move more cars more quickly, to keep our vaccinators safe and making sure that they're staying warm, and able to move people through at a very fast rate," Mark Pfister, executive director of the Lake County Health Department, said Tuesday during a tour of the facility.
The expo hall has sat largely unused since spring because of the pandemic. Because of its size and large overhead doors, dozens of vehicles can be parked inside as the vaccine is administered to occupants, who must remain in their vehicles.
About 400 were expected to be vaccinated Tuesday. All were front-line health care workers who are part of the Phase 1a vaccination group. So far, more than 20,000 individuals, mainly hospital employees, have been vaccinated in Lake County, Pfister said.
There are about 10,000 remaining before those in Phase 1b, which includes people 65 and older, can begin receiving the vaccines. More than 51,000 in that group already have registered on Lake County's AllVax site.
Pfister said the fairgrounds site can be scaled up to accommodate more vehicles.
"Ultimately, our goal is (to) keep this facility operating seven days a week for multiple hours," he said.
After three weeks practicing under a heated tent at health department headquarters in Waukegan, the health staff shifted to the fairgrounds Tuesday for the first appointments at 10:15 a.m.
Those receiving the vaccine must be registered on the AllVax system and bring with them a QR code, which is scanned by screeners before a vaccinate is delivered. Those without QR codes or appointments are directed out, said Hannah Goering, health department spokeswoman.
The system is set up to keep everyone safe, according to Pfister.
"Everything we do here in Lake County is by appointment only," he said. "The last thing we want to do is set up superspreader events."
Vaccinations are scheduled in 15-minute blocks. The goal is to get people vaccinated and into medical observation within 10 minutes of arrival, said Patti Corn, the health department's emergency response coordinator. Recipients are monitored for 15 or 30 minutes, depending on whether they have had a previous reaction to a vaccine.
Only "very minor" reactions have been reported over the past three weeks, Pfister said.
Among those receiving a vaccine Tuesday was Doris Martinez of Vernon Hills.
"I thought the process was good," she said. "It was painless. I feel great."
Edith Jones Odom of Beach Park received her second dose Tuesday. She reported no side effects from the first.
"I think everybody should get vaccinated," she said.
So far, there has been enough vaccine supply to provide second doses, but Pfister said he and colleagues elsewhere, including in Cook County and Chicago, are looking for more regularity.
"Once we have a better understanding of how much vaccine is flowing, then we can start planning for the future and start opening up more slots and give people times," he said. "But until we have vaccine, you can't create those slots."
Pfister said the department will have a multitiered approach for Phase 1b by continuing to work with hospitals and distributing vaccines to school districts, manufacturing companies and pharmacies.
• Daily Herald staff photographer Mark Welsh contributed to this story.