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Editorial: Illinois’ latest disaster? The vaccine rollout
Monday, February 15, 2021 Chicago Tribune by EDITORIAL BOARD
Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s team announced last week it will enlist federal Disaster Survivor Assistance teams to help at COVID-19 vaccination sites in Cook and St. Clair counties. And the Federal Emergency Management Agency will give Cook County $49 million to help with vaccine distribution.
That’s entirely appropriate because so far, Illinois’ rollout of vaccinations has been flat-out disastrous.
It’s as if seniors across the region have had to come out of retirement to take on a new full-time job — tracking down the ever-elusive vaccine injection. They’re spending hours — and days — cold-calling potential vaccination sites and scrolling through the internet for injection appointments. Refresh. Refresh.
And how about these optics? At the same time elderly Illinoisans maddeningly scour their communities for a shot at a shot, Pritzker put state lawmakers at the front of the line. On Wednesday, members of the General Assembly were offered their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at a state police facility in Springfield. One Tribune reader, Phillip Tutor of Schaumburg, wrote to us, “How about we have a law that no Illinois politician gets his or her COVID-19 vaccination until all Illinois residents get theirs? I then would bet that this vaccine rollout fiasco gets fixed in record time.”
The vaccine rollout in Illinois has been, well, as Tutor says, a “fiasco.” As of late last week, Illinois ranked 37th among states and D.C. in terms of rate of shots injected and that was actually an improvement. Of the vaccines it has received from the federal government, Illinois has injected 66.2% of those doses, which puts the state under the national average of 68%. As of late, distribution has been improving in Illinois, but the question remains: Why has Pritzker’s vaccine distribution management been so subpar, compared to other states? And why does he keep pretending it hasn’t been?
Poor communication between Pritzker’s health officials and county health departments explains part of the problem. Local health officials say they’re not being told soon enough how many vaccine doses they’re supposed to get each week. It’s hard for counties to structure their weekly vaccine rollout plans if they don’t know what’s coming.
Illinois was also late in mapping out its plan for vaccine delivery. In November, as other states had settled on a distribution strategy, Illinois officials were still soliciting proposals from outside firms to oversee the effort. Later, they shelved that idea and decided to handle the planning largely in-house. Precious prep time got wasted.
Pritzker’s latest decision to expand the pool of vaccine-eligible people to those younger than 65 with certain health conditions has also drawn flak from local health officials. There’s merit to Pritzker’s motive — expand vaccination to people with cancer, heart conditions, chronic kidney disease and other serious conditions. But expanding the eligibility pool when there aren’t enough doses to meet existing demand doesn’t make sense.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, who don’t exactly like each other, joined together to say they won’t abide the latest Pritzker vaccine plan. In Chicago and the rest of Cook County, the expansion would add more than 1 million people to the pool of people eligible. “All we do is make it harder for people already eligible to get the vaccine,” Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said at a news briefing last week. “It just dilutes the amount available.”
Of course, a hefty ramp-up in the supply of doses from the federal government would dramatically improve Illinois’ vaccine rollout. As of last week, Chicago was getting just 6,000 doses a day. “When I talk about getting really enough vaccine,” Arwady said, “I’m talking about seeing our supply double, triple or quadruple. If that can happen, we’ll be able to move even more quickly.”
Still, even with the existing supply rate from Washington, there’s a lot that Pritzker’s team can fix to make the rollout better. Improve communication with county health departments about vaccine supply levels coming down the pipeline. Align eligibility expansion with supply rates. Don’t create more of a stampede by making vaccine “available” on paper but not in practice.
Perhaps Pritzker’s team is getting the message. On Thursday Illinois set a single-day record for vaccinations, with 95,375 doses administered. We hope that level of improvement continues. The health of millions of Illinoisans — and the need for post-pandemic economic recovery — depends on it.
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The Tribune Editorial Board advocates for the equality of the individual, for personal responsibility, for a limited government role in the lives of the governed. The Tribune advocates for personal liberty, opportunity and enterprise, for free markets, free will and freedom of expression. Our editorials seek to help readers make sound decisions.