Illinois and Chicago have both entered Phase 1B of their COVID-19 vaccine rollout this week, 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 there have been many reports of people having difficulty booking appointments to get vaccinated, even if they qualify in this new phase of vaccinations. Why are appointments so difficult to get for some?
State and local officials have addressed this issue on several occasions, asking for patience with the problem they've attributed to vaccine shipments from the federal government that have contained fewer doses of both available vaccines than initially anticipated - a trend playing out nationwide since shipments began last month.
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker warned last week that even though the state is moving into this new phase as scheduled, there are still limitations to appointments based on how much vaccine is received.
"This does not mean, however, that right away you will be able to get the vaccine as easily as you can get the flu shot," Pritzker said. "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. There are additional vaccines in the pipeline that may soon seek FDA approval, and that will help. But there are 3.2 million Illinoisans in Phase 1B, so there will be far greater demand than supply for the near term – to put it in perspective, we’re expecting approximately 126,000 first doses to arrive next week outside of Chicago. That’s less than 4% of the 1B population. Until the vaccine supply improves, we will all need to be patient."
Pritzker said the state is working to build capacity and hopes to see an increase in doses in the coming weeks.
"Because of the supply limitations, I want to re-emphasize that vaccinations will be given by appointment only, so please don’t try to line up at the store or call your local pharmacy. When we have a steady stream of vaccine coming in from the federal government, we will launch walk-in locations and round-the-clock operations," Pritzker said.
Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said last week that the city is not receiving "anywhere near enough" doses from the federal government to vaccinate everyone in the city who is eligible in Phase 1B.
"Let me highlight that 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 Thursday. "I'm thrilled that there is so much demand here. We are not wasting any vaccine, we have not wasted any vaccine in Chicago in one day, we will not waste any vaccine going forward."
Arwady said the city this week would receive just over 34,000 doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which is roughly the same amount the city has received each week since shipments began.
But she noted that Chicago has more than 360,000 residents over the age of 65 and more than 350,000 people who are employed in some of the sectors eligible to be vaccinated in Phase 1B.
"So the amount of vaccine that we are getting each week right now will allow us to vaccinate 5%, one in 20 of the people who are eligible," she said. "So, particularly if you're in your 60s or you don't have a lot of underlying conditions. I want you to understand it is likely to be a number of weeks before you are able to receive vaccine."
Arwady said Chicago health officials were "excited" to see the administration of President Joe Biden, inaugurated Wednesday, in place as he has "pledged more transparency around vaccine availability" but she noted that the city was not likely to see significant increases in vaccine shipments for a few weeks.
"We get a lot of questions about, 'Why can't we move faster?' We can move faster as more vaccine gets here," Arwady said, adding, "My main word for you is patience."
Arwady acknowledged in a livestream again on Tuesday that vaccine availability is limited but offered a note of optimism that the system CDPH has been setting up - particularly enrolling health care providers as vaccine administrators - would enable the city to increase availability as soon as larger shipments begin to come in.
"There is not a lot of vaccine availability, I'm just going to be perfectly honest with you, in terms of appointments right now, but there will be more really each week as we get more vaccine," she said. "Building the capacity to be able to send vaccine out to more than 400 providers across Chicago gives us the ability to very rapidly be able to ramp up access to vaccine hopefully as more becomes available over the next few weeks."
"I know vaccine envy is real," Arwady said. "I feel for those of you who are really wanting to get that vaccine and just can't get a slot yet. Please rest assured, there will be slots available."
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.