Has supply caught up with COVID-19 vaccine demand?
Ryan Johnson was never in any rush to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
But when Cook County Health opened up two South suburban mass vaccination sites this week to allow walk-ins without appointments, the Crestwood man figured the time was right to get his shot.
He expected long lines and a long wait. He got neither.
"I thought I was going to be waiting in line for an hour or two, but I'm leaving about 35 minutes after I walked through the door," Johnson said Thursday outside the Tinley Park Convention Center mass vaccination site. "This was easy."
Walk-ins outpaced those with appointments at the convention center Thursday, but it was definitely more of a trickle than a steady stream. The site can handle 2,160 vaccinations a day, but at lunchtime there were far more workers than patients.
"We have projected to see a plateau in demand and we are just starting to see that, just like the rest of the country," said Iliana Mora, chief operating officer at Cook County Health, which oversees operation of the vaccination process at the walk-in sites. "This is an exciting new opportunity to further reduce barriers to vaccination, such as technology. We have seen good results so far, with today being the first full day of accepting walk-ins."
The program is offering walk-in vaccinations from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Saturday at the Tinley Park site at 8451 Convention Center Drive as well as the former Matteson Target at 4647 Promenade Way. Walk-ins need only bring a photo ID and will not be asked for insurance, payment or immigration status, health officials said.
The Matteson site is using the Pfizer vaccine, which has been approved for anyone 16 and older. However, 16- and 17-year-olds need to be accompanied by their parent or guardian when getting vaccinated, officials said.
Many walk-ins Thursday in Tinley Park said they were grateful for the new process because they were either unable to access appointments before or grew frustrated by the registration process.
"We don't have a computer, so we couldn't ever make an appointment," Diane Kowalczyk of Palos Heights said after getting her first dose of the Moderna vaccine with her husband, LeRoy, Thursday in Tinley Park. "We wanted to be vaccinated because I think more and more people were getting uncomfortable with us not having had the vaccine."
While some are worried interest in the vaccine might be waning, state health officials reported Thursday that 131,411 more doses were administered the previous day.
That brings the total number of doses administered statewide to 8,473,953, according to Illinois Department of Public Health figures. Nearly 30% of the state's population is now considered fully vaccinated, which is two weeks removed from receiving their final dose of the vaccine.
Meanwhile, IDPH officials also announced 33 more COVID-19 deaths, along with 3,170 new cases.
Since the outbreak began, 21,755 Illinois residents have died from the virus, while 1,312,722 have been infected, according to IDPH figures.
Hospitals statewide are treating 2,147 COVID-19 patients, 511 of whom are in intensive care, IDPH officials also reported.
The state's seven-day case positivity rate is at 3.8%, where it has been for the past three days.
Vaccinations have been cited by local and state public health officials as the reason a recent surge of cases has plateaued.
Getting more people vaccinated will drive the state's caseload down even more, but health officials believe they might have to resort to more nontraditional methods of inoculating the public, like opening the process to walk-ins.
"This is one of several strategies we have to meet people where they are at and make it as simple as possible to get vaccinated," Mora said.
Tinley Park resident Carmen Smith said the walk-in process was much smoother than she expected. She recommended it for anyone hesitant about getting the vaccine and said she felt fine after her shot.
"Look, I tried to go online a couple times and couldn't make an appointment, and this was really quick and easy," she said. "I walked in and walked out; and I'm hungry as always, so I know I'm fine."