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Government, Politics & Issues

St. Clair County Tweaks COVID Vaccine Process After Ineligible People Made Appointments

Cars pull up for COVID-19 vaccinations at Belle-Clair Fairgrounds in Belleville on Feb. 1, the first day for a drive-thru clinic operated by St. Clair County agencies with help from the National Guard. On Friday, nearly 80% of the appointments were taken by people as far away as California.
File Photo / Derik Holtmann
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Belleville News-Democrat
Cars pull up for COVID-19 vaccinations at Belle-Clair Fairgrounds in Belleville on Feb. 1, the first day for a drive-thru clinic operated by St. Clair County agencies with help from the National Guard. On Friday, nearly 80% of the appointments were taken by people as far away as California.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published by the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.

St. Clair County officials said Saturday they are making changes to COVID-19 vaccination scheduling a day after hundreds of ineligible people made appointments.

On Friday, an estimated 800 people who were not eligible under state and county vaccination guidelines had scheduled appointments through a link and password that officials believe was shared via email, text message and social media. The county asks eligible residents not to share that information when the health department or a hospital administering vaccines provides it to them.

Eligibility is verified prior to vaccination, so anyone who didn’t meet age, residency or job criteria with their personal or employee identification was turned away. No vaccine doses were wasted Friday, according to county leaders.

Herb Simmons, county emergency management agency director, said Saturday that the county is working with the appointment scheduling vendor “to address the issue that took place.”

In the meantime, the county is changing how it contacts eligible residents to schedule appointments after they sign up for the St. Clair County vaccine waitlist, according to Simmons. (Join the waitlist through a form available online at health.co.st-clair.il.us or by calling 618-825-4447.)

“Our message is that if you haven’t received the message from the the St. Clair County Health Department, or from the county hospitals that are helping with this mission, then you shouldn’t attempt to sign up using a link from another person,” Simmons said in an email to the Belleville News-Democrat.

Simmons didn’t provide further details about the changes the county is making. St. Clair County Board Chairman Mark Kern couldn’t immediately be reached for comment Saturday.

The hospitals working with the health department include St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, Memorial Hospital Belleville and Memorial East, Touchette Regional Hospital and Southern Illinois Healthcare Foundation, as well as the East Side Health District.

Only St. Clair County residents who are 65 years old and older and health professionals are currently eligible to get vaccinated in the county. But when a link and password to make appointments was widely shared, people from Missouri, Indiana, Wisconsin, Michigan and even California got appointments for Friday, according to county officials.

Lynnsie Kantor, 59, who lives in Missouri, said she didn’t know she was doing anything wrong when she signed up for a vaccine appointment in St. Clair County. She said she received the link from her daughter.

Kantor said her daughter incorrectly heard through social media that the county had extra vaccines and needed to fill appointments or doses would go to waste. She said she had no way of knowing that information and figured there were no problems when she entered her information.

“I went to the link and was able to put in my St. Louis address and got a confirmation,” she said.

Kantor said now she is trying to cancel her Thursday appointment through the county’s call center, but when she calls, she only gets a busy signal and can’t leave a message.

She said she thinks the county’s system should be able to detect when someone puts information that shows they aren’t eligible.

“It is strange that it accepted it,” Kantor said. “That makes so many problems. Anyone outside of Illinois should not have been able to sign up.”

Kavahn Mansouri and Lexi Cortes are reporters with the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.

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