After one year, how are the suburbs and Illinois doing in vaccinations?

  • Nurse Shannon Lesch administers Illinois' first Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccination outside Chicago to certified nursing assistant Chemica Jones, 41, at Saint Francis Medical Center in downstate Peoria a year ago.

    Nurse Shannon Lesch administers Illinois' first Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccination outside Chicago to certified nursing assistant Chemica Jones, 41, at Saint Francis Medical Center in downstate Peoria a year ago. Associated Press FILE PHOTO/Dec. 15, 2020

 
 
Updated 12/15/2021 5:41 PM

It's been one full year since the first COVID-19 vaccine inoculation was recorded in Illinois.

In that time, 8,025,629 residents have been fully vaccinated, according to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.

 

But it's the millions of remaining eligible residents who haven't had even one dose that concerns public health officials.

"Misinformation in our society is so prevalent and it creates understandable doubts," said Dr. Kiran Joshi, co-lead and senior medical officer for the Cook County Department of Public Health. "We need to battle mistrust in government and public health, and earning trust is a process and can't happen by flipping on a switch. We have a lot of hard work still ahead of us and we are working relentlessly to improve vaccine rates and increase trust."

But Joshi noted there are other reasons keeping people who want the vaccine from receiving their immunizations and boosters.

"We also know there are people who have not been vaccinated due to structural barriers such as lack of health care access and no paid sick leave," he said. "We are supportive of policies that improve access and grant all workers paid sick leave."

The CDC estimates 63.3% of the state's 12.7 million residents are now fully vaccinated.

Illinois Department of Public Health officials report 7,595,887 eligible residents 5 and older were fully vaccinated in Illinois. The other fully vaccinated residents received inoculations in other states or countries.

Medical officials and infectious disease experts said the vaccine rollout that began a year ago was incredible. Even the speed at which the vaccine was developed was unprecedented.

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"The ability of our scientists to make a vaccine from scratch has improved so much in recent years, and that's honestly what's made life so much better than it could have been this year," said Dr. Emily Landon, head of the University of Chicago's infectious disease prevention and control program.

"But that's also one of the things that's been used to try and discredit these vaccines. I can honestly say I did not anticipate the incredible misinformation and disinformation campaign that exists around these vaccines."

Illinois has the 18th highest percentage of fully vaccinated residents among the 50 states, according to CDC records. Vermont leads the country with 75.6% fully vaccinated residents, while only 45.8% of Idaho residents are fully vaccinated.

Nearly 48% of all Illinois' fully vaccinated residents live in the suburbs, according to IDPH data.

DuPage County leads all Illinois counties with the highest percentage of its population fully vaccinated at 69.5%, records show.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"That leaves us ... with a stunning nearly 200,000 individual residents of DuPage County who are eligible for vaccination who have not received even one vaccine yet," said Karen Ayala, executive director of the DuPage County Health Department. "So we have a ways to go."

Ayala noted that 95.3% of all hospitalizations and deaths in DuPage County over the past year have been individuals who were not fully vaccinated.

All other suburban counties report more than 60% of their residents are fully vaccinated, according to IDPH figures.

In suburban Cook County, 65.7% of the population is fully vaccinated.

"We knew there would be great initial demand and interest," Joshi said, "but we also knew there would be vaccine hesitancy and communities with less access to vaccines."

When vaccines were first introduced, supply couldn't keep up with demand. Eligible residents spent hours online trying to book appointments at mass vaccination sites and eventually pharmacy chains.

Initially, the eligibility requirements were limited to certain workers or ages, but now everyone 5 and older is eligible.

The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine was the first approved for distribution, followed by Moderna. Both were initially two-dose courses separated by three to four weeks, respectively.

The one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine was approved in March, but it was pulled for a short while after reports of blood clots in some female recipients were reported. While it was soon allowed back into circulation, it has not been a popular choice for most seeking a COVID-19 vaccine in Illinois.

The Pfizer vaccine has been the most common dose used for Illinois residents. According to CDC records, 58.5% of all fully vaccinated Illinoisans received the Pfizer vaccine. Another 33.9% received the Moderna shots. Less than 7.5% received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Less than 1% of the state's fully vaccinated residents received doses out of the country that weren't the types approved in the U.S., CDC data shows.

At its peak in April, the state was averaging almost 120,000 shots a day. But by July the state was averaging fewer than 16,000 vaccinations a day.

Currently, because of booster demand and recent vaccination authorization for children between the ages of 5 and 11, the state is averaging more than 67,000 shots a day for the week.

"There are few moments in my life, my wedding or having my kids, that I remember exactly how I felt when it happened, and the moment I got my first vaccination is one of them," Landon recalled. "It was a happiness and gratefulness that was so special to me. I remember that moment so fondly."

Over the past year, Illinois vaccine providers have administered 18,322,040 doses of COVID-19 vaccines as first, second, only or booster doses, but IDPH officials are quick to note there's no shortage of available shots.

The state agency shows a surplus of more than 2 million doses available statewide.

Daily Herald Staff Writer Katlyn Smith contributed to this report.

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