Jan. 14, 2021 – Planning is well underway in Oak Park to expand the pool of residents who can be vaccinated against COVID-19. But limited and unpredictable supplies of vaccine – and the large number of healthcare workers who live and work here – complicate putting a specific timeline on when a needle will go into the arms of many residents.
Under the current state multi-phased vaccine allocation guidelines, officials say those now being vaccinated as part of Phase 1a are essential to keeping health care systems operational. Only after these critical health care workers have been vaccinated can the Village move to Phase 1b, which includes residents over age 65.
With state and federal guidelines expected to soon broaden the pool of eligible recipients to include those over 65, the question of just how much vaccine will be available – and how fast it can be administered – has left county and local health departments like Oak Park taking on what many see as one of the largest logistical challenges they have ever faced.
Oak Park is using an online platform created by the state to schedule vaccine-eligible local health care workers for upcoming vaccination clinics. The same scheduling platform will be used as eligibility guidelines broaden and vaccine supplies allow, but officials caution that the state scheduling system is not a waiting list.
Exactly when sufficient vaccine and vaccination opportunities for the wider community will be available remain unknowns, officials say.
“Under the state multi-phased vaccination program, health care workers are considered the top priority because they are at an increased risk of exposure to the highly-contagious virus and are essential to caring for those who contract the illness,” said Oak Park’s Interim Public Health Director Joseph Terry.
“As we prepare to expand our efforts to vaccinate the broader community, the timing will depend first on vaccinating those eligible in the initial phase, but ultimately on the availability of vaccine.”
The first shipments of the vaccine to arrive here were immediately distributed to Rush Oak Park Hospital and West Suburban Medical Center beginning in mid-December per Phase 1a of the state plan. In early January the Village began hosting drive-through clinics to vaccinate healthcare workers who live here, but don’t have access to the vaccine via an employer.
Individuals being vaccinated during these ongoing Phase 1a clinics include medical physicians, workers at independent local pharmacies, dental practices and local funeral homes and residential congregate care workers who directly support persons with developmental disabilities or the elderly.
In addition to vaccinating everyone over age 65, Phase 1b of the state vaccination plan calls for vaccinating essential workers like grocery store employees and teachers. The Village expects to not only increase the number of drive-through clinics, but also is working to enlist local pharmacies and medical care providers to help increase the number of vaccinations that can be administered as weekly vaccine supplies allow.
To date, the Oak Park Health Department has allocated more than 3,500 first doses to hospitals and health care organizations, and hosted three drive-through vaccination clinics for eligible health care workers who live here, but do not have access to vaccine through their employers.
“The number of vaccinations that will be required in Oak Park is substantial,” Terry said. “As the pool of those eligible to be vaccinated grows, individuals will have to be patient as we methodically work through the state phases and the intricate guidelines within them. Still, the main driver will be the availability of vaccine, and we anticipate demand will far exceed supply at least in the coming weeks.”
The Village learns week to week about the amount a vaccine allocated to the Village by the state. Given the limited vaccine supply and the fact that both vaccines in current use require two doses at a specific interval, Terry said local health officials are still determining the most efficient and equitable allocation process for Phase 1b under the guidelines set by state and federal officials.
In the meantime, residents who qualify to be vaccinated in Phase 1a of the state’s plan, but are not being vaccinated through their employers, may email email@example.com to indicate their interest in being vaccinated through the Oak Park Public Health Department.
Information about the Village's vaccine allocation plans is posted at www.oak-park.us/covid19vaccine. This webpage also includes details about the guidelines set by the Illinois Department of Public Health that Oak Park is following.
In addition to the website, the Village is pushing out information on its social media channels, www.facebook.com/vopnews and www.twitter.com/vopnews, as well as via email to those who sign up at www.oak-park.us/enews.