Phase 1b of vaccinations starts Monday, but accessibility questions remain
Starting Monday, roughly 3.2 million more Illinois residents are eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.
Just how those residents are going to get the vaccine remains largely unknown, however.
Eligibility is one thing. Accessibility is another.
Despite the state's edict authorizing vaccination of anyone 65 and older, as well as essential front-line workers like public safety employees, teachers and grocery store personnel, there is no statewide vaccine registration apparatus and state officials are directing residents to their local county health departments.
Meanwhile, officials at suburban county health departments are taking a scattershot approach to the vaccination process in the absence of any specific guidance from federal or state officials. Eligible residents should check with their primary care physicians to see if they're giving the shots, register with national pharmacy chains like Walgreens or CVS, and sign up with the county health departments as well, they suggest.
"The first opportunity that they have to get the vaccine, please take advantage of the vaccine," said Karen Ayala, DuPage County Health Department executive director. "It's the same regardless of where you get it. We're just most interested in people getting the vaccine as soon as possible."
About 268,000 vaccine-eligible DuPage County residents are urged to register at the health department's website, dupagehealth.org, Ayala said. Shots would eligible at the county's clinic site or one of the dozens of other health care providers DuPage County and other Illinois counties are relying on to help administer vaccines.
"When we have clinic availability, or any of our partners let us know that they have clinic availability, we can push that information out to people," Ayala said of the online registration process.
Kane County Health Department officials also are directing eligible residents to its website kanehealth.com to register for the vaccine. They're also relying on "partner providers," though a list of those providers isn't yet available on the health department's website.
Approximately 125,000 Kane County residents are eligible in the phase 1b group, officials estimate.
There's also a dearth of vaccine doses that has plagued the vaccination process since the initial rollout in mid-December and slowed inoculations. That's going to affect each health department's ability to provide shots to those who are newly eligible, health department officials contend. They also complain that information from state and federal officials has been scant.
In the meantime, county health department officials are preaching patience.
"It's a limited number of entities that have the vaccine right now," said Lake County Health Department Executive Director Mark Pfister. "We still have no clear understanding of what to expect. We're hopeful we'll see our allocations increase."
Health department officials in Lake County sent notices to those in the second wave of eligibility late Sunday afternoon notifying them that because of limited supply, the health department was still vaccinating the first group of eligible recipients. Once demand from that group slows down, "we will begin opening appointments for people in phase 1b," the notice read.
Vaccine-eligible Lake County residents can still register at the county's AllVax portal, allvax.lakecohealth.org and should be notified when a vaccine dose is available.
Just over 1% of the state's population has been fully vaccinated with two doses of either the Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, state officials report. That means residents in the initial eligibility group of health care workers, hospital employees and residents of long-term care facilities are still prioritized.
"We know about the governor wanting to initiate 1b vaccinations," said Will County Health Department spokesman Steve Brandy. "We hope to be into 1a over the next week or two. We are in the process of finishing up 1a."
Meanwhile, eligible Will County residents can register at the department's website, willcountyhealth.org.
The Cook County Public Health Department was expected to unveil a vaccine registration portal late last week, but that announcement has yet to be made. There is no way to register on the agency's website, but residents can register for vaccination updates at redcap.dph.illinois.gov.
The Illinois National Guard has been deployed to four vaccination locations in suburban Cook County, and 25 more sites are expected to be staffed by troops when they are ready over the next three weeks, state officials said.
National Guard officials said 25 teams of about 18 to 20 troops will be deployed to those sites. Each team will have about six medics already trained to inoculate patients with the vaccine. The other troops will serve in administrative and record-keeping roles, officials said.
Illinois Department of Public Health officials and Gov. J.B. Pritzker's office also said Friday the state's COVID-19 information site, coronavirus.illinois.gov, would have a portal to direct residents throughout the state to their appropriate county health department's vaccine registration site. However, as of Sunday that information was not available on the state site.
Hospital networks, like Advocate Aurora Health and Edward-Elmhurst Health, announced they have begun notifying eligible patients about vaccine availability through those health care systems' scheduling apps.
Still, numerous seniors aren't comfortable using the internet or may not have a computer or a smartphone to access information, AARP Illinois State Director Bob Gallo warned. To bridge the technology gap, state and local leaders need to offer vaccine telephone help lines that are staffed appropriately and don't leave seniors on indefinite hold, he said.
Phone numbers for county health departments are:
• Cook County Public Health Department, (708) 836-8600.
• DuPage Health Department, (630) 682-7400.
• Kane County Health Department, (630) 208-3801.
• Lake County Health Department, (847) 377-8000.
• McHenry County Health Department, (815) 334-4510.
• Will County Health Department, (815) 727-8480.
• Daily Herald staff writers Marni Pyke, Susan Sarkauskas, Katlyn Smith and Mick Zawislak contributed to this report.