It's 'confusing,' but it's coming. The latest on COVID-19 vaccinations for suburban seniors.
It's not just the waiting that's the hardest part for seniors eager to be vaccinated against COVID-19. It's the uncertainty over when, where and how they can get inoculated.
More than 2 million Illinoisans age 65 and older along with essential workers, such as police, are next in line to get shots once the first round of health care workers and long-term care residents is substantially complete.
"We would like to get the vaccine because at Christmas it was all Zoom meetings," said Ellen Kessler, an Antioch resident in her 80s. "We have a few great-grandchildren we haven't got to hug yet." But the lack of information "is very confusing," she said.
On Friday, Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced a major initiative to accelerate vaccines across Illinois and a plan to start inoculating seniors on Jan. 25 on a limited basis, depending on supplies from the federal government. The governor also is calling up the Illinois National Guard to expedite shots.
In the suburbs, county health department officials estimated that ramping up a vaccination program for seniors could take two weeks in Kane County, "several weeks" in DuPage County, and an unspecified number of weeks in Cook and Will counties. Lake County officials expect to start in February.
Even one state lawmaker admitted he couldn't get a straight answer on vaccine details.
"The information that's coming out is a little sketchy," said Democratic state Rep. Marty Moylan of Des Plaines, who is 70 and has asthma.
That scattershot approach troubles AARP Illinois State Director Bob Gallo.
"We have a logistics problem here as well as a supply problem, and we've been unprepared at every step along the way," Gallo said.
Here's what we know so far.
• Two COVID-19 vaccines by Pfizer Inc. and Moderna Inc. are approved for use in the U.S. Both require two doses, several weeks apart.
• Federal rules require health care workers and long-term care residents (Phase 1a) to be vaccinated first. That group of about 850,000 people is still getting shots.
• Phase 1b is next. The group contains 3.2 million essential workers, like firefighters or teachers who can't work remotely during the pandemic, and everyone 65 and older. Pritzker dropped the age to 65 from 75 earlier this month because of high death rates among seniors in Black and Hispanic communities.
• Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry and Will counties' health departments have vaccination outreach programs listed below.
• Seniors are also advised to check with their doctor's office to see if they have arrangements for vaccinations.
• Pritzker has promised vaccinations at mass sites, mobile sites, hospitals, urgent care centers, and "ultimately doctors' offices and large employers." Pharmacy partners would include Walgreens, Jewel/Osco and CVS.
• The state will launch a vaccination website before Jan. 25 with information about where and how to get shots.
DuPage Medical Group, one of the state's largest practices, is sending texts out to patients about the status of the vaccine.
"We have already begun identifying our most vulnerable senior patients and will use a number of methods to ensure they receive information about the vaccine and are able to schedule an appointment when the state moves to Phase 1b of vaccine distribution," Chief Medical Officer Donald Hoscheit said.
Numerous seniors aren't comfortable using the internet or may not have a computer or a smartphone to access information, 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.
Here's what local health departments are saying about the second phase of shots.
• Cook County Department of Public Health leaders "look forward to expanding to Phase 1b as soon as feasible," spokesman Don Bolger said.
"Each week, we are expanding the capacity of vaccinators in suburban Cook County, and with ample vaccine and vaccinators, look forward to expanding to Phase 1b as soon as feasible. Planning is under way for vaccination sites in suburban Cook County."
The county is asking residents to complete a COVID-19 vaccination survey that will add them to a list to receive regular updates at cookcountypublichealth.org/communicable-diseases/covid-19/covid-vaccine.
• The DuPage County Health Department is "diligently working to expand COVID-19 vaccine access and capacity, as Phase 1b is expected to begin in the coming weeks," spokeswoman Stephanie Calvillo said.
"The Health Department is encouraging anyone living or working in DuPage interested in being vaccinated to sign up for updates on our website at www.dupagehealth.org/covid19vaccine but also recognizes this solution may not work for everyone.
"Currently, no Phase 1b appointments are available since DCHD is focused on vaccinating eligible persons in Phase 1a. As DuPage County moves closer to Phase 1b and appointments start to become available, DCHD will provide more information about how to access information via telephone support and online."
• The Kane County Health Departments expects "vaccines for seniors 65 and older will begin shortly," spokeswoman Susan Stack said, adding that could be within two weeks.
"Watch our website for updates on appointments and clinics. This vaccine drive is a huge operation and we are progressing as quickly as we can with the priority groups, and dealing with vaccine supply uncertainty."
Kane offers a vaccine information sign up at kanehealth.com/Pages/COVID-Vaccine.
• Lake County expects "to begin 1b in February," health department spokeswoman Hannah Goering said. "Timing is uncertain as we continue to vaccinate our health care worker population as efficiently as possible, and much is dependent on our vaccine supply.
"When 1b begins in Lake County, we will notify people to schedule appointments in batches as vaccine supply arrives. Not everyone will be asked to schedule at the same time."
Lake County was the first to offer a vaccination registration program at allvax.lakecohealth.org.
People who need technical assistance should contact the Health Department at (847) 377-8130.
• The McHenry County Health Department has vaccine information at mchenrycountyil.gov/county-government/departments-a-i/health-department.
• Will County Health Department spokesman Steve Brandy said there's no definite date for the vaccine rollout but officials are working with partners to offer a robust program. "A lot of good things will be happening soon," Brandy said.
He urged residents to complete a survey that puts them on a list to be contacted when inoculations begin at willcountyhealth.org/covid-19/covid-vaccine. Seniors who need assistance with the survey can call Senior Services of Will County at (815) 723-9713 for help.