As some mass COVID-19 vaccination sites close, next stage is doctor's offices
For weeks this winter, public health officials labored to open mass COVID-19 vaccination sites across Illinois.
Now as some mass sites close while vaccination levels dwindle, the latest pandemic push is to roll out more COVID-19 inoculations at doctor's offices -- a much more comfortable setting for a shot.
New rules for storing Pfizer's vaccine make that shift easier, Lake County's public health chief explained.
On May 19, the federal government authorized keeping Pfizer's vaccine in refrigerators for up to a month.
"It used to be that once we pulled it out of our ultracold freezers, a provider only had five days to store it in their refrigerators before they had to use it," Lake County Health Department Executive Director Mark Pfister said. "The good news is, now they have 30 days. That is tremendous."
Moderna's vaccine, also widely used in Lake County, already had a longer storage time, but Pfizer's is the only COVID-19 shot approved for children as young as 12.
The change reduces another logistic that private practices need to juggle, Pfister said Friday. "And to make life easier for providers, we're going to be driving the vaccine around like a paper route to different providers across the county.
"Obviously, the major goal is, we want providers to get comfortable with these vaccines" so residents can get pandemic-related shots in their "medical homes," he said.
Another advantage of integrating COVID-19 vaccinations into doctor's offices now is to prepare for September.
At that point, Pfizer is expected to ask the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for emergency use authorization for its vaccine in younger children. If approved, it could mean a flood of parents to pediatrician's offices this fall, and experts hope the summer will allow private practices to ramp up.
DuPage Medical Group, one of Illinois' largest physician organizations with offices across the suburbs, has three sites in Glen Ellyn, Lisle and Tinley Park where vaccines are administered. On Friday, the group gave its 100,000th dose.
"We intend to continue to operate our three sites of care for now," Vice President for Communications Lisa Lagger said Tuesday. "The model has supported community need well and importantly, there has been very little vaccine waste with our approach."
Lagger said that as the vaccine supply continues to improve, the goal is to move beyond the three vaccination sites. And the group is developing a process where patients will be able to receive an initial vaccine at their primary care doctor's or pediatrician's office and then a second vaccine at one of the three main sites.
"We hope to have this in effect midsummer," she said.
Last week, Cook County officials announced three mass vaccination sites were closing, and Lake County said it would shutter its fairgrounds locations in Grayslake on June 14.