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COVID-19 vaccine creates hope, but eligibility causes confusion

On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a global pandemic. One year later, more than 4 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in Illinois. But despite clear guidance on eligibility, people’s experiences getting access to the vaccine vary widely.

For many, the choice to get vaccinated when they became eligible was easy. Breanne Akre, 23, of Elwood, Ill., is a nurse at Morris (Ill.) Hospital & Healthcare Centers and did not hesitate. 

“Although there were a lot of conspiracies of negative outcomes…I was thinking about my friend whose dad passed away from it,” Akre said. “I wanted to do it. Even if something bad happens, at least, I did it in good faith.”

People ages 65 and older were eligible for the vaccine when Illinois moved into phase 1B on January 25, but some had a difficult time getting an appointment. Joyce Stade, 81, of River Grove, Ill., had an appointment that was canceled due to a shortage of healthcare workers to administer the shots. While she waited to be rescheduled, her daughter was able to make a last-minute appointment for her. 

“If I had to go online and do it myself, that would have been a real hassle,” Stade said.

The online appointment process and lack of available appointments have posed difficulties for many seniors. Robin Sluzas, 62, of Elmwood Park, Ill., grew frustrated trying to schedule an appointment for her husband, who is over 65. 

“I’ve been trying all these different places [but] they’re just constantly filled up,” Sluzas said. “I found out talking to the pharmacist at the Mariano’s in Harwood Heights that they’re only vaccinating three people per hour. So if they’re only open 10 hours a day, that’s 30 people. So how are you supposed to get [the vaccine]?”

Sluzas is still trying to make an appointment for him, and she worries about what the delays mean for ending the pandemic. 

“The longer we wait to get people vaccinated, the less likely the vaccines that they’re making now are going to be able to fight off these new stronger variants,” Sluzas said. “So I’m really worried about that too.”

Hansley Bordes, 18, of Evanston, Ill., works at a Kroger grocery store, making him eligible for vaccination as part of group 1B. Bordes got vaccinated out of concern for the safety of those around him. 

“I just want to be able to protect myself and my family, because… I’m around strangers every single day,” Bordes said. “I don’t know where these people come from, or if they could be asymptomatic and have the virus.”

Ricky Luoto, a 19-year-old first-year student at Columbia College Chicago, is still waiting for the vaccine. 

“I trust the science,” he said, “I’ve never had a problem with getting a vaccine before.” Luoto has severe asthma, so the coronavirus poses an additional threat to him. But while people with some health conditions are now eligible to be vaccinated in Illinois as part of group 1B Plus, asthma is not among them.

Luoto continues to practice double masking and social distancing, but he is eager for the relief being vaccinated could bring. 

“I think it would bring me more peace of mind,” Luoto said. He said everyone who can get vaccinated should do their part in helping the U.S. reach herd immunity, which occurs when a large portion of a community (the herd) becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely, according to the Mayo Clinic.

“I think to not get a vaccine for something that we’ve all been dealing with for the last year, and to still believe it’s fake or not real is just incredibly misguided,” Luoto said.

Nurse Breanne Akre receives her second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at Morris (Ill.) Hospital & Healthcare Centers, where she works | Avery Resendiz
Cindy Uribe, a nurse in the Chicago area, administers a COVID-19 vaccine to patient. | Cindy Uribe

Cindy Uribe, 48, of River Grove, Ill., was excited to be able to help vaccinate people. 

“It’s such a good feeling to be doing this: helping people, helping our community, our Chicagoland area to be vaccinated,” said Uribe, who works with the Oak Street Health clinics. 

But during the first three weeks, Uribe said there were many vaccine “no-shows” — people with appointments who failed to arrive. 

Cindy Uribe (right) and a patient (left) who received the COVID-19 vaccine. | Cindy Uribe

“So then what we have to do is call people on the waiting list,” Uribe said, which slowed the process. Over time, the clinic developed a new strategy, calling the last people on each day’s list an hour in advance of their appointments. This gave people on the waiting list more notice, too. 

“We’ve never wasted a single dose,” Uribe said proudly. “Not once.”

Fellow nurse Kate Bluett, of the Chicago suburbs, has worked with COVID patients. She is vaccinated and hopeful that people will get their vaccinations and help bring the pandemic to an end. 

“I don’t think this is going to end unless we have that herd immunity and a big majority of the population is immunized,” Bluett said.

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