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When will you get the COVID-19 vaccine? Illinois health systems may use electronic medical records to reach patients in next phases.

Friday, January 01, 2021
Chicago Tribune
by Lisa Schencker

As Illinois hospitals and health systems race to vaccinate their workers, they’re thinking ahead to an even larger task: vaccinating patients.

Some are not yet revealing how they’ll do that, but several Chicago-area health systems and departments are starting to talk publicly about how they might approach a broader vaccination effort. Their early plans offer a glimpse of what vaccinations might look like for the next groups of people to qualify for COVID-19 vaccines — which will likely include seniors and essential workers.


“Every health care provider around here is developing a mass vaccination program,” said Dr. Don Hoscheit, chief medical officer at DuPage Medical Group.

DuPage Medical Group, which has about a million patients in the west and southwest suburbs, will likely use its electronic medical records to identify patients who are old enough to qualify for the next round of vaccines, Hoscheit said. It can then reach out to those people through MyChart, phone calls, text messages or emails to let them know it’s their turn, he said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended that after health care workers and long-term care facility residents get the vaccine, the next groups include people ages 75 and older and essential workers, such as teachers, police and firefighters. After that, the CDC has recommended people ages 65 to 74 and those with certain underlying health conditions get vaccinated.


While distribution of the vaccine has been slower than expected nationally, Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s administration has not set a timeline for the rollout in Illinois and has been cautious about projecting too far into the future when enough vaccines will arrive to immunize people beyond the top priority group. The governor has indicated more details could be released this month on how further vaccine distribution will be prioritized.

As of Thursday, 143,924 people in Illinois had received their first doses of the vaccine, according to the governor’s office, and as of Tuesday, 269,625 doses of vaccine had been delivered to Illinois, not including the share that went directly to the city of Chicago.

Some local health care providers say vaccines for the next groups of people, beyond health care workers and long-term care facility residents, could be weeks away.

Hoscheit urges patients who don’t already use MyChart or similar online patient portals offered by their doctors to sign up for them “because I think that’s how a lot of the health systems are going to do outreach.” He said about 60% of DuPage’s patients are active on MyChart.

DuPage also plans to use its electronic medical records to identify high-risk patients, Hoscheit said. DuPage already has clinics specifically for patients who are at highest risk of needing hospitalization, meaning the medical group can contact them quicklyonce it’s their time to be vaccinated, he said.

Amita Health, which has 19 hospitals in Illinois, may also turn to electronic medical records to help identify older and high-risk patients, said Dr. Michael Kelleher, who leads Amita’s COVID-19 vaccine steering committee. Seniors and essential workers might be able to start receiving vaccinations in February, he said.

Kelleher noted, however, that it could be challenging because not all of Amita’s hospitals use the same electronic medical record system. Also, many of Amita’s doctors are not employed by Amita — rather they’re independent members of the medical staff — meaning their patients’ electronic medical records might not be easily accessible to the larger organization.

He said Amita will also likely reach out to doctors to help identify their highest-risk patients.

“The reality about most primary care providers is if you were to ask them who their top 100 highest risk patients are, they could probably name them for you because they’re people who are in all the time,” Kelleher said.

Amita may also work with the DuPage County Health Department to get seniors and others vaccinated, possibly setting up events at Amita hospitals, he said. And it may collaborate with state or local health departments to vaccinate essential workers, such as those who work at grocery stores or in public transportation.

“That’s where it would be great to be able to work with the county or the state to say, ‘We need you to figure out a way to verify that these people are who they say they are and qualify,’” Kelleher said.

The Lake County health department has started planning how to reach some of those essential workers. Lake County has an online registration system called AllVax where anyone who works or lives there can sign up to be notified when it’s time to get vaccinated. As of Thursday, more than 150,000 people had registered, said Mark Pfister, executive director of the Lake County Health Department and Community Health Center.

The Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine vial after being administered on Dec. 17, 2020, at Roseland Community Hospital in Chicago.
The Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine vial after being administered on Dec. 17, 2020, at Roseland Community Hospital in Chicago. (Brian Cassella / Chicago Tribune)

The county vaccinated more than 660 people this week at a drive-thru site for health care and related workers, including dentists, coroner workers and morticians, he said. Those drive-thru vaccinations will likely continue during the next phase of vaccinations, he said.

The county is working with school systems to set up high schools as potential vaccination sites for educators, he said. It may also give vaccines to large corporations with essential workers, such as food processing companies. The county is considering contracting with large pharmacy chains, such as CVS Health or Walgreens, to administer vaccines to people who signed up through the county’s registration system.

The Cook County Department of Public Health plans to have community vaccination sites but also partner with health care providers to vaccinate people in suburban Cook County, spokesman Don Bolger said in an email.

“There will be a validation process in place to confirm that individuals who receive the vaccine are front line essential workers, but we want to ensure that no one gets turned away,” Dr. Kiran Joshi, senior medical officer and co-lead of the Cook County Department of Public Health, said in a statement.

The DuPage County Health Department is working with hospitals, health care providers, pharmacies and community leaders “to make vaccine available through as many locations as possible,” spokeswoman Stephanie Calvillo said in an email. She said the department believes the next phase of vaccinations, beyond health care workers and long-term care residents, is likely “several weeks” away.

Walgreens and CVS have said they expect the vaccine to be available to the public during the spring, and patients will likely be able to make appointments at their pharmacies to get the shots.

Many older patients and essential workers are anxiously waiting to hear more about when it will be their turn.

Peggy Porter, who’s in the older-than-74 group, said she’s called Walgreens and her doctor to find out when she can get vaccinated, but has yet to get details. Porter, who lives in the Loop, has been careful to avoid public places.

“I’m not going to take the chances that more invincible people ... are taking,” Porter said. She said she read about COVID-19 patients being put on ventilators and decided she didn’t want to die that way. “I’d like to at least go into a grocery store, but until I have the vaccine, I don’t think it’s worth the risk.”

Health care leaders acknowledge they have a lot of work to do to nail down how essential workers and patients will get vaccinated — and that it may be more challenging than vaccinating health care workers.

“Down the line, it’s for everyone,” Kelleher said of the COVID-19 vaccine. “You just have to figure out how you’re going to do it.”

Chicago Tribune’s Jamie Munks contributed.


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