Jan. 22, 2021 – As Oak Park prepares to move into Phase 1b of the state’s plan for COVID-19 vaccinations next week, officials say the availability of vaccine will continue to be the single most important factor in how soon residents can be vaccinated.
Some 12,000 Oak Park residents and essential workers who live or work here are eligible in Phase 1b, including individuals 65 years old and older, teachers, licensed daycare staff, grocery store clerks, pharmacy workers, transit employees, mail carriers and delivery drivers.
With current vaccine supplies from the state averaging only about 900 doses or fewer per week, officials say it could take months to vaccinate just those newly eligible under this latest phase – not counting the required second doses many Phase 1a workers are now receiving.
“The supply of vaccine is driving our efforts to vaccinate residents,” said Oak Park’s Interim Public Health Director Joseph T. Terry. “Local drive-through clinics for health care workers not affiliated with our hospitals have demonstrated our ability to quickly and efficiently vaccinate significant numbers of individuals. But if the number of available doses continues to be relatively low and unpredictable, our ability to plan longer term is limited.”
The Oak Park Health Department is having to make some tough, but necessary decisions on how best to equitably allocate the limited doses among those eligible in Phase 1b, according to Terry.
“Based on the stream of telephone and email messages we are receiving, we understand the enormous desire for specific information about when and where residents can get vaccinated,” he said. “We are doing everything possible to ensure each priority group is vaccinated as soon as possible, but as long as vaccine demand far exceeds our vaccine supply, we can only provide a general timeline for when Phase 1b vaccinations will occur.”
Vaccinating senior citizens
Over the next two weeks, Village efforts will focus on seniors 65 years old and older who reside in local congregate homes that are not eligible for vaccination through the state and federal program for long-term health care facilities. According to Terry, these homes house many senior citizens and individuals with disabilities, and have been hotspots for outbreaks of the highly-contagious virus.
The Health Department intends to begin reaching out directly to Phase 1b eligible residents on February 1 with information about scheduling their vaccinations locally. In the meantime, Terry is urging residents to please be patient and to monitor www.oak-park.us/covid19vaccine for the latest information about local vaccination plans.
Starting the week of February 8, vaccinations will move beyond congregate senior housing to Oak Park residents 65 and older. The number of seniors scheduled to receive a vaccine each week will depend on the vaccine supply that typically is not known more than a week in advance.
Officials say they will use existing Village databases as a starting point to begin communicating with residents. Special efforts also will be made to reach renters who qualify and those living in multigenerational Oak Park homes to make sure they have opportunities to sign up to be vaccinated as well.
Once clinics are scheduled, eligible participants will be required to show proof of age and Oak Park residency to be vaccinated.
Vaccinating educators, child care workers
Vaccinations of educators, including teachers and child care workers, could begin as early as the week of February 15.
Local health officials are working directly with administrators in the public school districts and private schools to plan vaccination clinics for their staffs.
Outreach to local licensed daycare centers is expected to start on February 1 to ensure this important group of workers is included in vaccination clinic planning concurrent with the school system.
Officials caution that the supply of vaccine will determine how long it may take to vaccinate Oak Park school teachers and workers in local licensed childcare centers.
Vaccinating essential workers
Vaccinating the men and women who provide essential services to the community is part of the Phase 1b planning and could begin by February 15 as well. These include clerks in grocery stores and pharmacies, transit workers, mail carriers and delivery drivers who live or work here, but aren’t being vaccinated by their employers.
The Oak Park Health Department is working with major employers to identify their eligible workers and arrange targeted vaccination clinics as vaccine supplies allow.
Residents who are essential workers, but not affiliated with Oak Park institutions, and cannot receive a vaccination from their employer will be incorporated into this stage of local planning.
Forging local partnerships
Partnerships are being forged with local pharmacies, doctor offices and health care providers to broaden the availability of vaccination services across the community. Just how effective these partnerships can be will depend on the availability of vaccine, officials say.
“Oak Park is up to the task of vaccinating its citizens against COVID-19. Putting needles into arms is the easy part,” Terry said. “But unless the supply of vaccine can be increased significantly, the rate of vaccinations will be slow and unpredictable. I am optimistic that over the coming weeks we will see more vaccine and a wider range of options for individuals to get vaccinated. We just have to be patient and keep the faith.”
Information about the Village's vaccine allocation plans is posted at www.oak-park.us/covid19vaccine. This webpage also includes details about the multi-phased vaccination guidelines set by the Illinois Department of Public Health that Oak Park is following.
In addition to the website, the Village is pushing out vaccination 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.