COVID-19 vaccine in Illinois: Complaints of slow rollout, confusing process, unequal distribution of doses

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CHICAGO — As officials call for patience, many of the 4 million Illinois residents who now qualify for a COVID-19 vaccine are expressing frustration over the slow pace of the rollout and inequities in who has received doses so far.

One week ago, Illinois opened up vaccinations to more than 3 million additional people in the state, including those over the age of 65 and essential workers.

Compared to other states, Illinois has among the lowest percent of its population which is vaccinated so far, although it ranks among the top in the total number of doses administered to date. 

While West Dundee resident Lynn Moran said she is now eligible to be vaccinated as part of the “1B” group, getting an appointment has been next to impossible.

“I do have asthma and high blood pressure, so I have been trying to be exceedingly careful; I don’t want to be one of the unlucky ones that doesn’t pull through,” Moran said.

Schaumburg resident and 75-year-old retired teacher Tom Dillivan said he’s been working around the clock but is seeing the same issue in Schaumburg. He’s hoping to get vaccinated so he can go back to substitute teaching and see his friends and family again.

“I’ve tried Jewel, Walgreens, Marianos… there’s no dates available for sign-up, it gets very frustrating,” Dillivan said.

So far, Illinois has received 1.8 million doses and about half of those have gotten into people’s arms, while more than 219,000 or 1.7% of the state’s population has been fully vaccinated. 

There’s no question the COVID-19 vaccine rollout in Illinois has been slow, but data from the Chicago Department of Public Health also shows it has not been geographically diverse when it comes to who gets the shot.

An Intensive Care Unit physician at the University of Chicago Medical Center, Dr. William Parker studies the allocation of scarce healthcare resources. Since the spring, he has seen firsthand how devastating Covid can be.

“We know the neighborhoods where infections are currently the highest. That’s where we should be vaccinating, right, you know, that would be you know pour the water on the fire,” Parker said.

While residents on the south and west sides have been hardest hit by COVID-19, most of the people who have completed their vaccinations live on the North Side along the lakefront.

“We should be allocating proportionally more vaccine to hardest-hit communities on the south and west sides and less to the north because that’s where the problem is, it’s pretty straightforward,” Parker said.

While Illinois Representative Lashawn Ford says he commends the City of Chicago for opening vaccination sites in Austin and Roseland, he’s concerned there’s not been enough outreach to those in the Black and Latinx community who may be hesitant to take the vaccine.

Ford is working with Northwestern Hospital to hold a community meeting later this month to answer questions and concerns people may have.

Efforts to get doses into the arms of residents continue to ramp up, as the state announced the opening of 41 new vaccination sites in less than a week Monday inside locations including local health departments, grocery stores and clinics run by the Illinois National Guard.

Even as Illinois is expecting to receive 126,000 doses to distribute throughout the state this week, vulnerable residents are left wondering when it will be their turn.

“Honestly in the great scheme of things that’s not many doses to be spread out over the whole state of Illinois, it’s hard to know how much of that will trickle down to our area,” Moran said.

Mark Pfister with the Lake County Health Department said residents have had luck getting a vaccine at hospitals and their drive-thru clinic at the fairgrounds in Grayslake.

Pharmacies are just now starting to come online there, as they wait for a 16% increase in shipments promised by President Joe Biden last week.

“In the beginning you had a limited number of providers and limited amount of vaccine,” Pfister said. “Providers have increased, what’s going to limit us is our supply of vaccine.”

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