doug toole

Vermilion County Health Department Administrator Doug Toole stops to check in on the nurses giving COVID-19 shots at the health department in Danville.

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DANVILLE — On a good day, the Vermilion County Health Department looks at the thousands of people in the community who have been vaccinated for COVID-19 and feels good about that, says Administrator Doug Toole.

“On our bad days,” he said, “we look at the percentage vaccinated and, again, wonder what our neighbors are doing that we’re not.”

Vermilion County has held clinic after clinic and has had help for more than two months from the Illinois National Guard in getting vaccines administered.

Yet the county is in about the bottom 10 percent of the state in total vaccinations and trails its neighbors.

With 40.6 percent of the state fully vaccinated, Vermilion County’s rate stands at 22.8 percent, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

Toole said he prefers to use the federal vaccination rate for his county, which includes about 500 people who have been vaccinated at Veterans Affairs Illiana Health Care System in Danville and boosts Vermilion’s rate to 23.8 percent.

And the rate of the county’s 65-and-older crowd who are fully vaccinated is more than double that, at 59.4 percent, he said.

But Toole said the county can forget about achieving the 70- to 80-percent rate that is said to be needed to achieve herd immunity to COVID-19. He now doesn’t look for Vermilion to reach half that rate.

The county might hit 30 percent fully vaccinated among those 12 and older, he said, but “that’s hopeful.”

“It would be nice to get to 30,” he said. “I don’t think we’re going to get there.”

‘No one thing’Here’s a snapshot of what happened at recent vaccine clinics in Vermilion County.

Toole said there were four clinics last week aimed at youths 12-18, though the shots were also made available to adults over 18.

Each of the three-hour clinics in Hoopeston, Georgetown and Jamaica had the capacity to vaccinate 250 people, and a longer clinic in Danville could have handled 250, he said.

Total shots given at those clinics fell well below capacity — 27 in Jamaica, 33 in Georgetown, 55 in Hoopeston and 118 in Danville.

On Wednesday, the health department offered vaccinations at two public housing communities and had six takers at one and two at the other — and that was with the help of the Vermilion Housing Authority and NAACP Danville Branch health navigators helping promote it, Toole said.

“It’s frustrating,” he said.

After a big initial push in which people who wanted to be vaccinated got their shots, Toole said, multiple opportunities remain. But why more people aren’t taking advantage of them, “there’s no one thing I can point to,” he said.

Meanwhile, Vermilion’s COVID-19 cases appear to be on an uptick, Toole said. And the number of residents in the county who are in the hospital with COVID-19 hit 15 as of Wednesday — one more than Champaign County had that day.

“Since May 7, we’ve reported 499 new cases,” Toole said. “So more cases correspond to more hospitalizations correspond to more deaths.”

On Friday of last week, Vermilion County reported 106 new cases — a day on which Champaign County reported 17 and the state reported 1,573 for all 102 counties.

Though Vermilion County has less than half the population of Champaign County, it has had 137 COVID-19 deaths to Champaign’s 148.

“It’s not good,” Toole said. “I feel our numbers of new cases seem to be on an uptick, not a spike, but it’s moving up, and I don’t see it moving down.”

That’s based partly on what’s coming up: Memorial Day weekend parties, high school proms and family celebrations of graduations in a county that’s three-quarters unvaccinated.

Sicker county

Not doing well with protective health measures didn’t start with the pandemic, Toole said, though “I had hoped that a pandemic would be different.”

Numbers of annual flu vaccinations in Vermilion County aren’t where he’d like them to be, and there are children who don’t get caught up on required vaccinations until they’re told they can’t come back to school without them, he said.

In the 2021 annual County Health Rankings and Roadmaps, a program of the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, Vermilion was ranked near rock bottom in Illinois — 99th out of 102 — for the health of its residents, with higher rates of adult smoking, adult obesity, physical inactivity, low birth weights, poor mental health and physical health days, sexually transmitted diseases and premature deaths than Illinois averages.

Smoking, obesity and physical inactivity alone can lead to the chronic diseases that make it more difficult to fight off the worst effects of COVID-19.

“This is a community that is sicker,” Toole said. “If we did better with our own health, we might do better at fighting this off.”

Starting this month, the Vermilion County Health Department also began keeping track of how many COVID-19 cases there have been among fully vaccinated residents — 10 since May 7.

That’s about 2 percent of the 499 positive cases since that date, Toole said, and “that’s well within the percentage they told us to expect.”

By way of comparison, Champaign County has had about 20-25 “breakthrough” cases to date, C-U Public Health District Deputy Administrator Awais Vaid said.

Douglas County has had two, one in March and one in April, health department spokeswoman Summer Phillips said.

Changes coming up

Toole said he’s grateful to the state for its help from the National Guard, to local medical providers and other partners that have helped with the county’s vaccination efforts. But he can’t justify keeping the National Guard on hand past June 14.

The health department is looking at cutting back on its own vaccine clinics after that, likely to be reduced to monthly clinics, since there are multiple opportunities for people to be vaccinated elsewhere, Toole said.

His hope now, he said, is that Vermilion will reach 25 percent fully vaccinated before the National Guard leaves.

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