With eligibility for the COVID-19 vaccine in Illinois set to widely expand in a matter of weeks, vaccine hunters are bracing for a busy and perhaps difficult time securing appointments.
All Illinois residents over the age of 16, except those in the city of Chicago, will be eligible for the COVID vaccine starting April 12. However, on Friday, the state's Department of Public Health authorized counties experiencing low demand to begin vaccinating all residents 16 and older in order to "address a concerning possible trend in increasing COVID hospitalizations and case rates."
However, health officials with Kane, Lake and Will counties have told NBC 5 that demand remains high in their respective counties, and as a result, they haven't planned an expansion prior to April 12.
Dr. Kiran Joshi, senior medical officer and co-lead with the Cook County Department of Public Health, said the county will open up eligibility to restaurant staff, construction workers and religious leaders Monday in line with IDPH guidance. The county will evaluate its "progress daily to determine future steps," he added.
Avi Rubin, a Highland Park high school student who founded "Vaccine Volunteers IL," said when eligibility widely expands next month, there will likely be a "very sudden influx of people" trying to find a vaccine.
"It's going to be difficult again, because there’s going to be so many more people," he said.
So far, Rubin has filled out more than 1,000 submissions for people seeking appointments.
"For those left behind, it will be near impossible if they don’t have someone helping," he said.
Similarly, 18-year-old Tyler Rickmon, who helps people find appointments through the "Chicago Vaccine Hunters" Facebook group simply said, "We don't know what to expect."
"Each time a group becomes eligible under IDPH guidelines, we notice a huge spike in membership, of hundreds of membership requests each day," he explained.
Rickmon said he's been able to secure 9 out of 10 appointments.
"I don’t care where you’re from," the 18-year-old said. "I just need to know your basic info and how far you’re willing to go, and I will do anything I can to help."
Rubin encouraged those looking for assistance in obtaining an appointment to fill out his online form or text "VACCINE" to 773-780-0074. Calls can also be made to 312-210-0311.
Information about the "Chicago Vaccine Hunters" Facebook group is available here.