'Just makes no sense': Widening vaccine eligibility upsets those 65+ who can't get shots

  • Friendship Senior Options, which operates Friendship Village in Schaumburg and GreenFields of Geneva, administered its 2,000th vaccination last week.

    Friendship Senior Options, which operates Friendship Village in Schaumburg and GreenFields of Geneva, administered its 2,000th vaccination last week. Courtesy of Friendship Senior Options

 
 
Updated 2/11/2021 7:28 AM

While barely a quarter of those eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine in Illinois have received at least one dose, Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced even more residents will be eligible in two weeks.

The move rankled many frustrated Illinois residents who have been trying unsuccessfully to schedule a vaccination for themselves or their parents. They fear widening the eligibility pool will further reduce their chances of getting inoculation appointments.

 

"My daughter and I have been trying to get a shot for three weeks, and there are no slots available," said Dolores Gruen, 78, of Palatine. "We get up at six in the morning every day and go straight to the computer, and there are never any slots available."

Gruen agrees that medically vulnerable residents should be prioritized, but she doesn't understand why state officials waited until now to add them to the list and didn't address those who are already struggling to get vaccinated.

It's unclear how many more people will be eligible under the new guidelines. Roughly 4 million Illinois residents -- one-third of the population -- are eligible under the existing rules. Front-line health care workers, hospital staff members and nursing home residents and employees were the first to be eligible. Those 65 and older and essential workers who cannot work from home were added last month.

So far, the state has given at least one dose of the two-dose vaccine regimen to 1,152,666 people, or 1 in 11 residents, according to Illinois Department of Public Health records. While there are more than 500 sites offering vaccinations statewide, most don't schedule appointments beyond the quantity of vaccine doses on hand.

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Unions and employers often have handled logistics for essential workers like teachers, police, firefighters and grocery employees, but people 65 and older largely have been left to fend for themselves by competing for appointments on a multitude of websites.

Many don't understand why the governor is expanding the eligibility pool while there are vaccine shortages.

"Is he nuts?'" asked John DeSana, 71, of Naperville. "How can he go on TV and complain that there's not enough doses and then do this? It just makes no sense."

DeSana said he and his wife have tried to schedule appointments in three states where they own properties, but so far to no avail.

AARP Illinois State Director Bob Gallo said he's worried this will make it harder for vulnerable seniors to receive a vaccination.

"Many seniors have these same medical issues as well," he said. "I just hope this doesn't make things worse."

The governor's move was applauded by advocates for those with disabilities who have pressed the governor and state health officials to add medically vulnerable individuals to the Phase 1B eligibility roster.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"Many people who have disabilities or preexisting conditions can be at higher risk of complications from COVID-19," said state Sen. Julie Morrison, a Lake Forest Democrat. "We must take care of our most vulnerable people. Those in the developmentally disabled community are presented unique challenges that put their lives in danger each day."

Vaccines for medically vulnerable individuals were part of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for the second wave of vaccines, but Illinois initially didn't include them. This group includes organ transplant recipients, cancer patients, individuals with chronic respiratory diseases, diabetics, those who are pregnant and those who are obese.

Pritzker said an expected increase in supplies of vaccine made the inclusion of medically vulnerable individuals feasible.

"As quickly as we receive enough vaccine supply, we need to waste no time in protecting a broader section of our most vulnerable population," Pritzker said. "Those who are under 65 and live with comorbidities, such as cancer survivors or those living with heart disease, have an elevated risk of serious complications or death if they contract COVID-19."

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