More now eligible for COVID-19 vaccine, but when can they get it?

  • Amy Looi of Cook County Public Health Department assists Illinois National Guard Army Sgt. Kirsten Kessling at one of 96 registration stations at the Tinley Park Convention Center mass vaccination site.

    Amy Looi of Cook County Public Health Department assists Illinois National Guard Army Sgt. Kirsten Kessling at one of 96 registration stations at the Tinley Park Convention Center mass vaccination site. Jake Griffin | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 1/26/2021 6:32 AM

New ways to get access to COVID-19 vaccination opened Monday for people 65 and older and essential workers in the suburbs, but slots filled quickly amid continued vaccine shortages.

As those eligible for immunization broadened to 3.2 million Illinoisans -- one quarter of the state's population -- federal data show available vaccine doses and distribution are lagging behind other states.

 

Illinois has administered 49% of the vaccine doses providers have received, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. State records differ and paint an even less efficient picture, showing less than 42% of the doses received have been injected so far.

Some in the suburbs were able to sign up for future vaccinations on Monday, the day Gov. J.B. Pritzker had designated for the beginning of Phase 1B for inoculating those 65 and older and essential workers, a broad category that includes many people who are unable to work from home.

A new Cook County scheduling portal allowed some people to schedule vaccines at vaccine.cookcountyil.gov or by calling the Cook County Public Health Department at (833) 308-1988. Eligible Cook County residents vied for slots at 13 vaccination sites, including one at 3250 N. Arlington Heights Road in Arlington Heights.

Elsewhere in the suburbs, pharmacies and health care providers had begun Phase 1B vaccinations in some areas and public health departments planned to do so in coming days or weeks.

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Illinois vaccine providers have administered the sixth-most doses of any state in the country, according to CDC figures, but Illinois' vaccination rate of 5,517 doses per 100,000 residents is better than only 10 other states.

Pritzker blamed the vaccination scheduling difficulty on a lack of vaccine doses provided by the federal government. During the unveiling of a large-scale vaccination site staffed by Illinois National Guard troops and operated by the Cook County Department of Public Health Monday at the Tinley Park Convention Center, Pritzker said Illinois is not the only state struggling.

"Every state in the nation is experiencing this same shortage," he said. "But we have a new president now, and he's already taken steps to expand vaccine manufacturing, and in the meantime Illinois has taken the steps necessary to be ready with sites like Tinley Park to vaccinate as soon as those expanded shipments arrive."

Pritzker complained the state's low vaccination rate stemmed from an "exceedingly slow" rollout of vaccinations at roughly 1,700 long-term care facilities. National pharmacy chains like Walgreens and CVS were contracted by the federal government to perform inoculations of residents and workers at those facilities.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

According to state records, the pharmacies have received roughly one-third of the state's vaccine doses and administered just 20% of those.

"All these vaccinations sit on shelves because that partnership is so slow at the job," Pritzker complained.

CVS Chief Medical Officer Dr. Troy Brennan appeared on CNN Monday to dispute claims made by governors in several states.

Brennan said all residents and workers willing to be vaccinated at the 7,822 skilled nursing facilities under contract with CVS throughout the country -- including 301 in suburban Chicago and downstate Illinois -- have had their first doses of the vaccine. Nationally, 36% have received a second dose to be fully vaccinated, he said. Brennan expects all skilled nursing facilities to be fully vaccinated by mid-February. The company has moved on to providing vaccines at assisted living centers and other long-term care facilities, including some where they were told by state officials to begin vaccinating on Monday, like Illinois, he said.

"We basically identified what the schedule was and we've kept to that schedule," Brennan said. "We're certainly not withholding and we're certainly not wasting any vaccine."

However, officials in the governor's office said CVS could have started vaccinating in such facilities and that Monday wasn't a start date, but rather the last day the process could have been started.

Brennan said pharmacies were given vaccine doses based on head counts provided by the states at the facilities that turned out to be largely inflated. Another reason pharmacies had a large unused supply, he suggested, was because he estimated roughly 40% of workers at long-term care facilities passed on being inoculated at their first opportunity. Many, Brennan said, have reconsidered and begun the two-dose vaccination process.

Any excess doses, he said, will be turned over to the state to be used at vaccination sites like the one just opened in Tinley Park Convention Center, where scores of Illinois National Guard troops were getting instructions Monday on how to process residents with appointments.

Those vaccinations are expected to start at 8 a.m. Tuesday. Cook County health officials were steadfast in noting that vaccinations will only be given to those with appointments and only a certain number of appointments will be set each day, based on the supply of the vaccine available.

The convention center site is one of seven now open in Cook County and operating in conjunction with teams of National Guard troops. Other sites are county run health clinics in Arlington Heights, Ford Heights, Blue Island, Cicero, North Riverside and Robbins. A full list of vaccination sites throughout the state is available at coronavirus.illinois.gov.

Health officials in other suburban counties say it could be weeks before vaccines are available for Phase 1B as they finish vaccinating health care workers. Health department officials in both Lake and Will counties said they won't be vaccinating Phase 1B residents for a week or more. In DuPage County, the health department is focusing on the first wave of eligible residents, but noted other vaccine providers like hospitals and pharmacies have started vaccinating in Phase 1B.

McHenry County Health Department officials announced some Jewel-Osco pharmacies in the county are scheduling vaccine appointments for county residents 65 and older who register through the county agency's website at mchenrycountyil.gov.

Meanwhile, state health officials on Monday announced 49 more Illinois residents have died from COVID-19, while another 2,944 new cases were diagnosed.

That brings the state's death toll from the virus to 18,798, with 1,104,763 who have now been infected since the outbreak began just over a year ago.

Illinois Department of Public Health officials said 11,290 more doses of the vaccine were administered Sunday, bringing the total number of vaccines administered in the state to 692,763 since mid-December. Vaccine providers throughout the state are averaging 28,171 doses administered a day, over a seven-day period. The state's vaccine providers are averaged 82,342 new doses of the vaccine during the same time period.

Hospitals throughout the state reported 2,962 COVID-19 patients being treated Sunday. Of those hospitalized, 601 were in intensive care.

IDPH also announced the state's seven-day average case positivity rate is at 4.7%. Case positivity allows health officials to see the level of infection in a specific population group. A seven-day average is used to smooth out any daily anomalies in the reporting of new cases and test results.

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