NILES-MORTON GROVE, IL — The Cook County Department of Public Health launched a new vaccination sign-up form Monday as Illinois moved into Phase 1b, the second phase of its COVID-19 vaccination distribution plan, in which those 65 and over and certain front-line workers are eligible to receive doses.
Public health officials estimate there are about 3.2 million people who qualify for vaccinations in Phase 1b. In addition to senior citizens, those whose work carries a higher risk of exposure to the virus are eligible to be vaccinated in the second priority group.
Those front-line essential workers include: public safety, manufacturing, education, agriculture, postal, grocery store and public transit workers, as well as residents and staff at congregate living facilities like jails, prisons, shelters and rehab locations.
Public health officials recommended all residents of Niles and Morton Grove fill out the suburban Cook County vaccination registration form, which is available in English and Spanish.
Signing up will provide information regarding when people are eligible to receive a dose, how to schedule an appointment for a vaccine through Cook County Health and updates on other vaccination distribution locations throughout Cook County, according to the county public health department.
As of Monday, more than 80,000 residents of the Cook County suburbs covered by the department — everything but Evanston, Oak Park, Skokie and Stickney Township —
had received at least one dose, and nearly 24,000 had received both doses. About 18.6 percent of those vaccinated so far have been aged 60 or over, according to the department's website.
State public health officials also unveiled a vaccination site locator Monday. Gov. J.B. Pritzker's office said it will soon include hundreds of locations that will begin offering appointments for jabs. The Illinois Department of Public Health also launched a statewide vaccination registration form for those included in Phase 1b.
Pritzker appeared Monday in Tinley Park at suburban Cook County's first mass vaccination site, which is being staffed by the Illinois National Guard. The governor said state officials are hesitant to open up too many mass vaccination sites while doses of the vaccine are in such short supply. The state has received about 120,000 for each of the past two weeks he said.
"You don't want to overbuild," Pritzker said. "But you want to be ready with the infrastructure when the number of doses increases."
The Cook County Department of Public Health plans to distribute vaccines to 91 sites, including Cook County Health facilities, 40 Walgreens locations, as well as other pharmacies and hospitals.
And at least one suburban group of fire departments has offered to provide additional assistance to the county, but it is not clear if the offer has been accepted.
In a Jan. 7 letter, fire chiefs from four north suburbs and officials from Mutual Aid Box Alarm System, or MABAS, asked for certified paramedics in municipal fire departments to immediately be utilized to help administer vaccines to residents of the Cook County suburbs in Phase 1b and 1c.
"One lesson we should remember from the onset of the pandemic was that the process of establishing testing for COVID-19 was a disaster at a very critical juncture of the pandemic," the fire officials said. "In hindsight, we were not prepared for the vast number of people needing to be tested. Thus it is important to utilize all the resources available in Cook County to avoid a similar outcome with the vaccination.
"Unfortunately, relying solely on commercial pharmacies, private physicians and other commercial venues will overwhelm the system, cause unnecessary delays and likely lead to many individuals not even realizing they are eligible for the vaccine and how they should go about obtaining one," they added. "As of now, the onus has been placed on individuals in Phases 1B and 1C to seek out the vaccine themselves; we are volunteering to take on that responsibility as best we can to directly reach our most vulnerable residents and ensure as many individuals as possible in Phases 1B and 1C are vaccinated."
No response to the letter was available Monday from a Cook County Department of Public Health spokesperson.
County officials have provided a list of answers to common questions about the vaccine's safety and effectiveness. Cook County public health officials are also offering a vaccine sign-up hotline, staffed from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays, at 833-308-1988.
On Saturday, Niles, Morton Grove and the rest of suburban Cook County, or Region 10 in Pritzker's Restore Illinois reopening plan, shifted to Tier 1 COVID-19 mitigation measures, which allow indoor dining at 25 percent capacity at bars and restaurants.
Meetings and social events may take place with up to 25 people, and some organized sports can be played.
As of Monday, the region's seven-day rolling average coronavirus positivity stood at 6.9 percent. If it falls below 6.5 percent for three days while the number of COVID-19 patients hospitalized continue to fall or remain stable, the region will be eligible for further loosening of restrictions on businesses and activities, according to state officials.
"We are moving in the right direction," said Dr. Kiran Joshi, senior medical officer of the Cook County Department of Public Health, "but we must remain vigilant and continue to wear a mask, watch your distance, wash your hands and get vaccinated when you are eligible."