Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Wednesday pushed back on claims that Illinois ranks near the bottom of all 50 states for COVID-19 vaccine distribution.
The New York Times' tracker of vaccine distribution across the country ranks Illinois 44th of all 50 states for percentage of the population that has received at least the first of two doses of the vaccine, with 4.7% of Illinois residents having received at least their first dose.
The tracker also ranked Illinois at 43rd in the U.S. for percentage of doses used, noting that Illinois has administered 48% of vaccine doses that it has received.
Illinois health officials on Wednesday said a total of 1,253,300 doses of the vaccine had been delivered to providers in Illinois so far, as well as 537,050 doses allocated to the federal government's Pharmacy Partnership Program for long-term care facilities, for a total of 1,790,350 doses delivered to Illinois.
The Illinois Department of Public Health said that of those, 773,623 doses have been administered in the state, including 117,983 at long-term care facilities. That total number of doses that have been administered equates to just over 43% of the doses that IDPH said have been received.
Republican Illinois state Sen. Dan McConchie tweeted the New York Times story on Tuesday, writing that the state's metrics are "unacceptable."
"The governor must accelerate the rollout to save people’s lives and livelihoods," he added.
But Pritzker pushed back on McConchie during a news conference Wednesday, saying that the "real numbers" paint a different picture - though he did not immediately provide specific figures in refuting that claim.
"I think Sen. McConchie isn't paying attention to the numbers," he said. "The real numbers are that we have separated out the number of doses that are necessary for all of our long-term care facilities and that is taking time to roll out, that's being done by a federal partnership. If you take all of those doses out and remove the number of second doses that have been delivered to the state of Illinois… When you take all of those out, actually, we're doing quite well as a state at getting the administration of vaccinations, putting them in people's arms."
Pritzker said that while the more than half a million doses that have been allocated to the federal program appear as though they've been delivered to the state, they've actually been sent to CVS, Walgreens and those vaccinating nursing homes under that program.
"The other portion that I talked about is second doses," he added. "Those are being delivered and not administered. Why? Because if you're not ready for your second dose, which has to be three to four weeks after the first dose, then it sits in storage waiting for you because we don't want you to have received a first dose, and then get three weeks later, four weeks later and find there's no second dose. So those doses have to be put aside, but those are included in a large number that get reported as if those are all available immediately to push it into people's arms. They're not."
Pritzker said the state is "not even allowed to dip into" the second doses that have been shipped to Illinois and put into storage, though he did not immediately provide a specific number of how many of the more than 1.2 million doses received in Illinois so far (excluding the federal program) have been set aside for second doses.
He also noted that the more than 53,000 doses of vaccine that were administered Tuesday marked a one-day high for the state, expressing optimism that vaccine shipments - limited nationwide by what state and local officials have said is low federal supply - would increase in the coming weeks.
"We believe that the ramp up of the number of those who get vaccinated and the vaccines is just beginning," Pritzker said.
Pritzker on Wednesday again asked Illinois residents eager to get vaccinated for patience as the state deals with federal shipments of fewer vaccine doses than it had initially anticipated. Illinois entered Phase 1B of its COVID-19 vaccine rollout plan on Monday, standing up new vaccination sites and increasing eligibility to millions of residents.
Phase 1B opens up vaccinations to people age 65 years and older as well as "frontline essential workers," which includes first responders, education workers like teachers and support staff, childcare workers, grocery store employees, postal service workers and more. Roughly 3.2 million Illinois residents are eligible to be vaccinated in Phase 1B.
But Pritzker has repeatedly warned that even as the state has moved into the new phase of vaccinations, appointments are still limited based on federal vaccine supply - an issue he's blamed on former President Donald Trump's administration.
"Because federal vaccine production was hampered by the failure of the previous administration to properly invoke the Defense Production Act, vaccine supply is still limited all across the nation," Pritzker said last week, noting that the state anticipated receiving shipments of vaccine doses this week that would cover less than 4% of the population eligible to be vaccinated in Phase 1B.
Pritzker said Wednesday that he was "at the whim of the manufacturers and the ability of the new administration to ramp up the manufacturers' production capability within defense production" but expressed optimism about President Joe Biden's handling of vaccine production, one week into his administration.
"Here's what I can tell you: We're moving as fast as we can. The number of vaccinations available to people is ramping up. I'm very pleased to see that it means that whatever people were thinking, they can think maybe a little bit earlier than they had originally thought," he said, referring to when people may be able to widely access the vaccine.
"But this is going to take time. People are going to have to be patient. But I want to get everybody vaccinated, probably as much as, more than anyone else. So I'm going to be working very hard and I've been working on a national level, to really make sure that the administration is doing what they promised they would do and I have to say, so far so good," Pritzker added.
For everything we know so far about Phase 1B of vaccinations, including a full breakdown of who is eligible, a look at where you can sign up for appointments and updates, and more, click here.