Durbin, Pritzker raise concerns over long-term care vaccinations
Two of Illinois' top political leaders separately raised concerns Friday about the state's rollout of COVID-19 vaccines to residents and workers in long-term care facilities.
U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin and Gov. J.B. Pritzker called for issues facing vaccinations at nursing homes and other congregate living facilities to be addressed to ensure the safety of some of the state's most vulnerable residents.
Pritzker said he is "very troubled" about the speed at which residents of long-term care facilities are being vaccinated through a federal program in partnership with national pharmacy chains. State records show only 93,683 of the 524,050 vaccine doses allocated to long-term care facilities have been administered, or just 17.8%.
"I have expressed that concern to the Biden administration and the pharmacy partners," Pritzker said. "They must accelerate the pace of vaccines to our most vulnerable residents."
While the state began vaccinating medical professionals and other at-risk hospital workers more than a month ago, vaccine shipments for long-term care facilities didn't arrive until nearly two weeks later. Additionally, vaccine providers have 72 hours to log vaccination data into state and federal tracking systems, which could help explain why the number of doses administered is so low.
But Durbin has other concerns. During a Friday morning call with reporters on a variety of topics, the state's senior senator said he was worried about "how few nursing home workers and staff are willing to get vaccinated," and the potential consequences of those decisions on the residents in those facilities.
Pritzker acknowledged a significant level of hesitancy to be vaccinated among many workers in those facilities. The state is working to address the low levels of vaccinations among that segment, he said.
"We've talked to the union representatives for many of these folks to make sure they are communicating to their union members; we've talked to the nursing home ownership to make sure they are communicating to their workers," Pritzker said. "I will say that if I have any optimism here, it's really because I've heard people tell me that they're concerned about taking the vaccine because they don't know anybody who's had the vaccine. They'd like to hear their neighbor tell them they had it and it was fine, and then they'll go do it. I think that kind of hesitancy can be overcome."
Officials at long-term care facilities also acknowledged a low vaccination rate among workers but noted efforts were afoot to increase vaccine participation, including providing employees with educational materials about the vaccine.
"When the (federal pharmacy partnership) program was first announced, the state asked us to help all of our skilled nursing member facilities sign up, and we were successful in that regard," said Matt Pickering, executive director of Health Care Council of Illinois. "The rollout hasn't been perfect, but this is a huge logistical operation and the state has been responsive to the issues we have raised. Ultimately, what's most important is getting nursing home residents and staff protected against COVID."
Almost half the state's COVID-19 deaths were residents of long-term care facilities, according to IDPH records.