DuPage County plans large clinics for COVID-19 booster shots

  • People wait in line at the DuPage vaccination clinic at the county fairgrounds in Wheaton. County health officials are preparing for large clinics to administer booster shots in October.

    People wait in line at the DuPage vaccination clinic at the county fairgrounds in Wheaton. County health officials are preparing for large clinics to administer booster shots in October. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer, March 2021

  • DuPage County Health Department Executive Director Karen Ayala

    DuPage County Health Department Executive Director Karen Ayala Brian Hill | Staff Photographer, March 2021

 
 
Updated 8/25/2021 6:25 AM

While several suburban health departments say they have no current plans to reopen mass vaccination sites, DuPage County is preparing to open large clinics to provide COVID-19 booster shots in October.

The vaccination center at the county fairgrounds in Wheaton shut down in mid-July amid waning demand and a shift to a hyperlocal strategy of bringing shots to underserved areas. Since then, the health department has distributed doses through walk-up and mobile clinics at schools, grocery stores, food pantries and apartment complexes.

 

Now, as they still try to persuade those who remain unvaccinated to roll up their sleeves, public health officials are gearing up for a booster campaign expected this fall.

"We are working with our community partners, and we are exploring ways of reinstituting our mass vaccination clinic for those efforts," DuPage Health Department Executive Director Karen Ayala told the county board Tuesday.

Federal officials last week announced that booster shots for the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines could be available as early as mid-September.

To prepare for the rollout, DuPage health department officials say they're assessing vaccination capacity at local health systems, health care provider offices, pharmacies and long-term care facilities.

The health department "is also preparing to increase capacity and is preparing for large-scale vaccination clinics to administer boosters in October and pediatric doses once approved," spokeswoman Stephanie Cavillo said. "Additional information will be shared in the coming weeks."

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Health department officials in suburban Cook and Lake counties, however, say they're not proposing to relaunch mass vaccination sites.

Unlike the initial inoculation campaign, the DuPage health department doesn't anticipate issues with vaccine availability.

"We are assured that vaccine supply, as well as all of the necessary ancillary supplies, will be available to use," Ayala said.

The highly contagious delta variant is driving a sharp rise in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, especially among the unvaccinated.

DuPage falls within the high category of COVID-19 transmission, with more than 127 new cases of COVID-19 reported for every 100,000 people over the last week, according to CDC data.

Of the new cases identified since May 1, more than 91% were in people who were not fully vaccinated, Ayala said. People who were not fully immunized also accounted for the vast majority -- more than 95% -- of COVID-19 hospitalizations.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"Unvaccinated people remain our greatest concern and our biggest public health challenge," Ayala said.

DuPage hospitals were treating 115 patients for COVID-19, with 24 in intensive care units, as of Aug. 17. About a month earlier, the county reported just 20 virus patients were hospitalized, and none were in the ICU on July 15.

DuPage County still leads the state in COVID-19 vaccinations. The county has 62.57% of its population fully vaccinated, according to Illinois Department of Public Health figures.

In suburban Cook County, a mask mandate in all indoor public settings started Monday.

"We don't have the authority, the same level of authority as Cook and other home-rule communities to issue those kinds of orders" in DuPage, Ayala said. "But I do think it's very, very smart from a public health strategy standpoint."

• Daily Herald staff writer Jake Griffin contributed to this report

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