COVID-19 vaccine access expands to seniors over 65, essential workers in Illinois


CHICAGO — Health officials continued to ask for patience Sunday as Illinois prepares to expand its massive COVID-19 inoculation efforts beyond health care workers starting tomorrow while facing a shortage of vaccines.

At a testing event at St. Saint Agnes of Bohemia Parish in Little Village, leaders said similar community-based efforts could be key for ensuring the vaccine is distributed equitably to communities of color that have seen higher rates of infection.

“The model for COVID-19 testing is actually quite simple, and the model should be used for the vaccine,” Zul Kapadia, Prism Health Lab.

Starting Monday, Phase “1B” will extend vaccine access to people 65 and over and a specific group of essential workers, which includes grocery store employees, manufacturing laborers, daycare, school staff and teachers, public transit employees, agricultural workers and postal workers.

Phase 1A will also remain open, allowing for health care workers and those in long-term care facilities to continue to get their shots.

Governor JB Pritzker says 3.2 million people in Illinois will be eligible, but the state will have only 126,000 doses from the federal government next week.

So over the first week of phase 1B, less than 4% of those eligible will be able to get a shot, and it may be weeks before they actually get one because there’s simply not enough vaccine for everyone who is eligible.

“Vaccine supply is limited all across the nation; there are additional vaccines in the pipeline that may soon see FDA approval and that would help,” Pritzker said.

The vaccination hub at Harry S. Truman college in Uptown is one of six sites built inside city colleges that will be central to Chicago’s plans for administering doses. Vaccinations at the city-run sites will be received by making an appointment online.

But officials say most people will get the vaccine through their own doctors or at a local pharmacy, where an appointment will also be necessary. Right now, Jewel Osco, CVS and Walgreens are the first to roll out registration pages in Illinois.

Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said Chicago has received between 32,000 and 34,000 doses per week for the last month, only enough to vaccinate a small fraction of the city’s 360,000 people over the age of 65 and some 300,000 essential workers.

“We do not have anywhere near enough vaccine to vaccinate anywhere near the number of people who are going to want to get vaccinated beginning on Monday,” Arwady said. “The amount of vaccine that we are getting each week will allow us to vaccinate 5%, or 1 in 20 of the people who are eligible.”

In suburban Cook County, the Illinois National Guard is assisting with mass vaccination sites at North Riverside Health Center, the Robbins Health Center, Morton East Adolescent Health Center and Cottage Grove Health Center, helping to dispense more than three times what the health care workers would be able to do on their own.

“We’re really happy to have them here to push this out,” said Dan Vittum, Medical Director of North Riverside Health Center.

It was exactly one year ago today that Dr. Awady announced the first case of the novel coronavirus in Illinois: a woman who’d recently returned from a trip to Wuhan, China.

Just one year later, we’re now talking about a vaccine, something many regard as a remarkable scientific feat even if the actual distribution will take time.

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