Editorial: Make sure seniors aren't squeezed out of vaccination access

In a few days, suburbanites 65 and older will lose their nearly-exclusive access to the COVID-19 vaccines, and we're not the only ones concerned about that.

On April 12, access to the vaccine in the Chicago metro area will expand to anyone 16 and older. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot promises the city will be ready to meet President Joe Biden's call to open vaccines to everyone by April 19. Yet, while more than 80 of Illinois' 102 counties have already extended their vaccination appointments to 16 and older, the Chicago metro area has held back because too many 65-plus residents are still trying to get vaccinated.

Too many still are, in numbers that are troubling if you consider the pool of eligibility is about to grow.

In reporter Marni Pyke's Daily Herald story on Monday, suburban health department authorities aren't panicking, but their concern is evident. In Cook County, appointments are still typically gone within the first few hours they become available. In DuPage, more than 200,000 people remain on the vaccine waiting list, and callers to the hotline are experiencing higher-than-average wait times.

In Lake County, Health Department Executive Director Mark Pfister pointed out that while the eligibility will expand to 16 and up on Monday, the vaccine supply still does not meet current demand in Lake County.

Under such conditions, it seems advisable for a couple things to happen. One, delay expanded eligibility in the metro area for one or two weeks. Second, gin up a government campaign aimed directly at older residents - urging those who have transportation to be willing to travel a greater distance to get the vaccine, and not just sit tight until their local Walgreens can take them.

If all that fails, we ask this of our suburban 20-somethings: Before you sign up for your shot, find out if your grandparents have been vaccinated. If not, help them sign up and then offer to drive them there.

Older people are in much greater danger from COVID-19, since their cases are likely to be more severe if they contract the virus. There has been enough progress made on getting older residents vaccinated that delaying the expansion of eligible residents for a week or two should make a significant difference. The wave of seniors seeking appointments and the paucity of shots caused immense frustration this winter, but supplies have ramped up, with the Biden administration promising 1 million doses a week for Illinois in April.

That's good news. The sooner we get the bulk of the population vaccinated, the sooner we will all be able to return safely to something like the lives we led before March 2020. So, we're as excited as anyone about the prospect for widespread vaccinations within the coming weeks. Nor, would we insist that every senior be vaccinated before younger residents get their turn. Let's just make sure most of our seniors have ready access to vaccines before younger and healthier people squeeze in ahead of them.

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