Illinois plans to release 150,000 new first-dose COVID vaccine appointments for next week as eligibility expands in the state to include any state residents 16 and older, Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced Thursday.
The appointments, which Pritzker said will be released "in the coming days," will be for vaccinations at any of the 11 state-supported mass vaccination sites and area pharmacies.
"That's on top of tens of thousands of newly-available appointments at hospitals and local county sites and other mass vaccination sites throughout the region," the governor said during a vaccine update Thursday. "Those appointments will open in the coming days, and many more will come after that. And it means that we'll be delivering a quarter of a million doses next week in Cook County and the collar counties alone."
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The new appointments come as Illinois prepares to expand its vaccine eligibility starting Monday.
Pritzker said last month that on April 12, "all state-supported mass vaccination sites, local health departments, pharmacy partners – in short, every jurisdiction that receives vaccine from the State of Illinois’ allocation – will be instructed to move to widespread eligibility."
Already, more than 80 counties have already opened up vaccine to any resident age 16 and older under a recent advisory from the Illinois Department of Public Health, which authorized any counties in the state seeing low COVID vaccine demand to begin the expansion.
Chicago, which receives a separate vaccine supply outside of the state's allocations, will not be expanding on Monday, but does plan to increase eligibility by President Joe Biden's April 19 deadline.
Still, even as eligibility widens, both Chicago and Illinois officials continue to urge patience as demand outpaces supply.
"Again, even with all of these new appointments, there will not be enough vaccine in week one to get everyone that wants to be vaccinated a dose," Pritzker said. "But vaccine doses will be arriving more quickly than ever before and the public health system is doing everything in its power to get these vaccines into the arms of our residents as quickly as the federal government can deliver them."
Illinois has administered 6.7 million doses of vaccine thus far, with 73% of seniors and 42% of people age 16 and up that have had at least one dose, Pritzker said, adding that the state is on track to break a single-day vaccination record on Thursday.
The news also comes as Illinois and Chicago both warn of an increase in COVID cases and hospitalizations, which Pritzker says makes expanding vaccination eligibility even more important.
"It is important that we begin to address the whole population, because the danger of the new variants spreading means that we want every dose to get into arms as soon as humanly possible," he said. "The vaccine is the best weapon against the variants and it's the fastest ticket back to normal life."