State officials preach patience, honor when scheduling vaccinations

  • Dr. Ngozi Ezike, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, gives an update in January.

    Dr. Ngozi Ezike, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, gives an update in January. Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Chicago Sun-Times via AP

 
 
Updated 2/12/2021 7:46 PM

As more Illinois residents become accepted for COVID-19 vaccinations in less than two weeks, state officials are urging those already eligible to be patient and those who soon will be eligible to "be honorable" when scheduling appointments.

"Until the vaccine supply from the federal government increases, vaccine appointments will be scarce, so we are asking people that dreadful word, but we still have to say it -- 'patience,'" Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said. "We also understand that we need people to be honorable and assert and testify that they qualify."

 

A "ramped up" effort to get more vaccine doses to the states is what Gov. J.B. Pritzker said drove his decision to begin including "medically vulnerable" individuals under age 65 to the list of eligible vaccine recipients, starting Feb. 25. Nearly 400,000 doses of the vaccine are expected to be delivered to the state next week, a "significant increase" from weekly deliveries a month ago, he said.

"Supplies have been growing steadily," Pritzker said. "And let's step back and remember who we're talking about. It's the most medically vulnerable. I didn't want to wait any longer. We feel good about the opportunity to serve those folks."

People under 65 with cancer, kidney disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and other lung diseases, diabetes, heart problems, weakened immunity after a solid organ transplant, obesity, pregnancy and sickle cell disease will be added to the list.

Cook County and Chicago health officials say they won't expand eligibility because of vaccine shortages leading to lack of access for those already seeking shots.

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Many senior citizens who are having trouble securing vaccination appointments are worried the inclusion of additional residents will make their search more difficult.

Ezike said she understands their concerns.

"There are some logistical challenges. While it's easy to figure out through an ID who is over 65 ... it's very important that people are not trying to misrepresent any information," she said. "We all need to recognize that there are people who absolutely need this vaccine more than another person, even though we all want this, and absolutely all will benefit. We have to think about our neighbors and think of the seniors who need to get vaccinated, the people with real conditions and not use loopholes to circumvent and jump ahead of the line."

She warned that if there appears to be widespread fraud in the appointment process, "we'll see if we need to do something more stringent."

The newly eligible will add an unknown number to more than 4 million residents already eligible for the vaccine. So far, the state has given at least one dose of the two-dose regimen to almost 10% of the state's 12.7 million residents, according to IDPH figures.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

State Sen. Patrick Joyce, a Democrat from Essex, was with Pritzker and Ezike at a tour Friday of a federally qualified health center in Chicago Heights. He said a lengthy Senate hearing Thursday where Ezike testified about the challenges residents have had to deal with trying to schedule vaccination appointments left him "optimistic."

"I beg you for patience," he said Friday. "Illinois is quickly becoming one of the leading states for vaccine distribution in the country. Yours is coming."

As of Friday, IDPH figures showed state vaccine providers had administered 68.9% of all doses delivered to the state so far. According to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Illinois has administered the fifth most doses of any state as well as Washington, D.C., but it was 36th best in administered doses per 100,000 residents.

The state is also ranked 32nd among the states in terms of the percentage of doses delivered that have been put into the arms of residents.

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