As Illinois prepares to move into the next phase of the COVID-19 vaccination rollout, local health departments across the state are readying for the expansion of vaccine distribution.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced on Wednesday he was lowering the age of those eligible to get vaccinated in Phase 1B.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended those 75 years or older to get vaccinated in the next phase, but Pritzker lowered that age to 65 years or older in Illinois. The governor said he wants to protect more seniors earlier.
“I think the decision to lower the age eligibility for the vaccine rollout is appropriate, particularly when we have significant concerns right now about community spread,” said Dr. Mercedes Carnethon with Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.
Steve Brandy with the Will County Health Department said the county is trying to get more partners and medical providers involved to help distribute the vaccine.
More than 40,000 people in Will County have taken a COVID-19 Vaccination Registration Survey.
“It’s not making an appointment for your vaccine,” said Steve Brandy, Will County Health Department spokesman. “It’s letting us know you want to have the vaccine.”
Brandy said the health department made some changes to the survey following the governor’s announcement.
“Here's what we did," he said. "We had a supplemental question. Now the initial question on this survey asks, 'Are you over 75?' That question is still there. But if you say no, a supplemental question will come up and says, 'Are you over 65?”
Other health departments, like in DuPage County, have also been collecting information from residents who are interested in getting the vaccine.
“Our focus in DuPage right now is still very much on that 1A group. It’s healthcare workers and long-term care facilities,” said DuPage County Director of Community Health Resources Chris Hoff. “So far we vaccinated about 18,000 of those people. There’s about 43,000 people in that 1A group, so we still have some time to go before we get into that 1B."
The next phase of the vaccination rollout will include those who are 65 years or older and front-line essential workers, including first responders, teachers, taxi drivers, grocery store and postal workers. That's a combined total of more than 3 million people in Illinois.
“We still have some time to go before we get into that 1B. I think most importantly recognizing that the next group is an even bigger group of people in DuPage,” said Hoff. “It’s going to take a couple of months to move through everybody that even qualifies for that 1B group.”
The governor didn’t provide an exact timeline on when Illinois will move into the next phase. The Chicago Department of Public Health plans to follow the federal age recommendation of 75 years or older. The department issued a statement saying there isn’t enough vaccines and how the federal government failed to deliver the promised doses.
“Ultimately, we need more vaccines. We are ready to expand distribution when the supply of authorized vaccine increases substantially. The City of Chicago has developed the infrastructure for vaccine distribution and already distributed over 95 percent of the doses we’ve received, but the federal government promised the nation 20 million doses by the end of 2020 and came nowhere near meeting that mark. At our current rate, it will take nearly a year and a half to vaccinate all of Chicago, which is unacceptable. The federal government needs to step up and protect Americans from this terrible virus. In order for us to bend this curve and return to our normal lives, we need to exponentially increase the vaccines available to cities across our country.
We are eager to expand the reach of the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as it is possible to do so effectively and efficiently, and we share the goals of increasing distribution among older residents while keeping health equity at the center of all we do. We are continually reassessing our strategy for vaccine distribution and will consider this change in guidance as we do so, while balancing that with our local needs. There are hundreds of thousands of essential workers in Chicago who are often younger and come from our disenfranchised communities, and we need to also prioritize this group and ensure that vaccine is getting to them in the 1b phase. In addition, we remain focused on the hundreds of thousands of healthcare workers in Chicago in 1a, as it is vital that we get the overwhelming majority of them vaccinated as soon as possible so they can continue to address the health care needs of their fellow Chicagoans.
We cannot create expectations for people and not deliver because the Federal government has failed. We need more vaccine.”