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Confusion ensues as Cook County changes course on its online COVID-19 vaccination form, filled out by 40,000 people so far
Monday, January 04, 2021 Chicago Tribune by Lisa Schencker
A Cook County Department of Public Health website that collected information for potential COVID-19 vaccine distribution raised confusion Monday as the department twice changed its guidance about who was eligible to use the site.
A survey on the website initially appeared to be open to all Cook County residents, and many filled it out over the weekend and on Monday, thinking it might help them understand when it would be their turn to receive vaccines. But county health department spokesman Don Bolger told the Tribune early Monday afternoon that the survey was intended only for some health care workers.
A few hours later, the department appeared to reverse course, updating the survey’s instructions to say that it was open to suburban Cook County health care workers, essential workers and residents.
The back-and-forth came amid a slower-than-expected national rollout of the vaccine that has left many people anxious for information.
“I think it’s horrible,” said Jennifer Stevens, 51 of Hoffman Estates, who filled out the form Sunday night after seeing a story about it on the news. She thought that by filling out the form, she would receive updates about potential availability and locations for vaccination, but now she’s not so sure. “It shows just complete disorganization.”
She said she and her husband, who both have health issues, have remained at home since February, getting their groceries delivered and avoiding takeout.
“I feel like this is never going to end because there is no plan and nobody is doing anything to put any thought into planning,” she said. “I had a little bit of hope, and I feel like every day the hope is being taken away because things like this are happening.”
Health care workers and long-term care facility residents are the first groups to receive vaccines. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended the next groups include people ages 75 and older and essential workers such as teachers, police officers and firefighters. After that, the CDC has recommended people ages 65 to 74 and those with certain underlying health conditions get vaccinated.
Dr. Kiran Joshi, co-lead of the Cook County Department of Public Health, apologized during a news conference Monday night for the confusion created by the website.
He said the department “soft launched” the survey last week intending to gather information from health care workers, but “we recently became aware of some confusion that the wording may have created, and we’ve been working really hard with our team to remedy that.”
The site is not a place where people can register for vaccination appointments, and most vaccinations in Cook County will be given by health care providers, according to information released by the department Monday night. But the information individuals provide will be used to categorize them into vaccination phases.
“We want to know how many of each group of people are out there,” Joshi said. “That helps us decide how many providers we need to get signed up and how quickly.”
Everyone who completes the form will be sent weekly updates about vaccinations, Joshi said.
So far, about 40,000 individuals have filled out the form. Some people reported filling it out in recent days after seeing the link on Facebook or receiving it from friends and family.
The initial form said people who filled it out could “receive regular updates about when and where they can receive the COVID-19 vaccination.” Instructions said: “Please complete this survey if you are an individual, and not affiliated with a health care organization of any type.”
The form asked people for names, addresses, ages, ethnicity, contact information and to identify if they were essential workers such as those in education, corrections or grocery stores. It also asked people if they had any one of nearly a dozen high-risk medical conditions.
But Bolger said early Monday afternoon that the form was intended only for health care workers who were not affiliated with health systems.
The instructions for the survey were changed later Monday to clarify that it was for “individual health care and essential workers who live or work in suburban Cook County, as well as suburban Cook County residents to understand their interest in receiving the vaccine.”
“By completing the survey, individuals will be added to a list to receive updates on COVID-19 vaccine availability including the timing and scheduling,” the updated instructions said.
The instructions say the form is only for people who live or work in suburban Cook County, and essential workers and health care workers in Chicago should refer to the Chicago Department of Public Health’s website for guidance.
The department said that if residents outside of suburban Cook County fill out the form, their information will be forwarded to their own municipalities’ health departments.
Neighboring Lake County unveiled a registration system for all its residents and workers weeks ago, and as of last week had registered about 150,000 people.
Barb Tchaou, 71, of Glenview, filled out the Cook County form after hearing about it on Facebook.
Once conflicting information about the form started emerging, she called her doctor’s office for clarity. She said she and her friends are “champing at the bit trying to figure out when our turn is coming up.”
Tchaou’s husband had heart and kidney transplants in 2018, so she’s hoping they can get vaccinated as soon as possible.
“I don’t fault people for trying to get information out in a timely manner, however, in trying to do that if they’re not specific enough, they will confuse a lot of people like me, and like probably a lot of other people,” Tchaou said.
Lisa Schencker is a Tribune business reporter covering health care. She writes about patients, hospitals, health insurers and pharmaceutical companies. Before joining the Tribune in 2016, she worked at Modern Healthcare and at daily newspapers across the country, including the Salt Lake Tribune for seven years.