How can Illinois seniors sign up for COVID-19 vaccines? Some health systems will begin reaching out within days

Lisa Schencker, Chicago Tribune
·5 min read

A number of Chicago-area health systems expect, within days, to begin inviting patients ages 65 and older to make appointments to get COVID-19 vaccines, and Walgreens is already allowing some seniors and essential workers to schedule shots.

The notifications will come as Illinois prepares to move Monday to the next phase of vaccinations, which will include people ages 65 and older and front-line essential workers, such as those who work in grocery stores, schools and public transportation. Gov. J.B. Pritzker has said people who are part of the next phase will be able to receive vaccines at hospitals, retail pharmacies, state-run sites, sites led by the National Guard, urgent care clinics and through large employers.

There are about 3.2 million people eligible to receive shots in Illinois as part of this next phase. The first phase, which started more than a month ago, included only health care workers and long-term care facility residents.

Even though the start of the next phase is less than a week away, information about how to actually get the vaccines has been scarce, leaving many frustrated. But some Illinois hospitals and health systems are starting to share their plans, which are dependent on receiving enough vaccine doses.

Walgreens is now allowing some Illinois seniors and essential workers to sign up online for appointments, with shots to be given once Illinois starts the next phase, said spokesman Phil Caruso. The appointments are available only at some Walgreens locations and supply is limited but expected to increase eventually, Caruso said.

DuPage Medical Group, which has 150,000 patients ages 65 and older in the west and southwest suburbs, hopes this week to begin asking patients to schedule times for vaccinations, as does Loyola Medicine, which includes Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood, Gottlieb Memorial Hospital in Melrose Park and MacNeal Hospital in Berwyn.

Oak Street Health, which has 16 clinics in Chicago and the Cook County suburbs that serve people ages 65 and older, said it hopes to reach out to patients to schedule appointments in coming days. University of Illinois Hospital and Health Science System plans to notify patients 65 and older starting next week through the system’s online patient portal, email and phone calls that they may make appointments.

University of Chicago Medicine has already been inviting some of its patients — those ages 75 and older who live on the South Side — to receive vaccines not used by health care workers. Advocate Aurora Health, which has 10 hospitals in Illinois, began piloting vaccinations for small groups this week.

A number of other organizations are not yet divulging their plans to vaccinate seniors and essential workers.

Northwestern Medicine “is in the process of finalizing all of those details,” spokesman Christopher King said in an email. CVS Health did not have details about when mass vaccinations for people in the next phase would start at its Illinois stores but said inoculations will be done through appointments made online.

Jewel-Osco, starting Monday, will “begin working with county health departments” to offer vaccines to those eligible under the next phase, spokeswoman Mary Frances Trucco said in a statement, but she didn’t provide additional details.

The Cook County Department of Public Health plans to announce details Thursday about the next phase, spokesman Don Bolger said.

The hospitals that shared their plans with the Tribune said they are identifying which patients to reach out to through their electronic medical record systems, and plan to contact them mostly electronically.

Oak Street Health has posted a link where seniors can sign up to receive information about vaccinations. Oak Street will vaccinate its own patients and those who are not patients, though it will prioritize people who live in the neighborhoods surrounding its clinics, which are often in underserved areas, said CEO Mike Pykosz. He expects Oak Street may be able to vaccinate about 10,000 seniors a week in the Chicago area, depending on supply.

“I 100% expect to get overwhelming demand for it,” Pykosz said.

DuPage Medical Group already sent surveys to all of its patients who use its online patient portal asking if they’re interested in getting vaccinated and, if so, if they’re essential workers.

DuPage expects this week to first reach out to its highest risk senior patients, and hopes to begin vaccinating patients by Feb. 1, said Dr. Don Hoscheit, chief medical officer. He expects the medical group may be able to vaccinate as many as 15,000 people a week by mid-February. It will likely take about 10 to 12 weeks for the medical group to work through all of its patients in this next phase, he said.

Loyola expects it may be able to vaccinate about 1,000 to 1,200 people a day during the next phase across its three hospitals, depending on how many doses Loyola receives, said Dr. Richard Freeman, regional chief clinical officer. Freeman hopes to begin scheduling appointments for Monday for seniors, as well as essential workers such as first responders, referred to Loyola from the Cook County Department of Public Health.

Loyola expects to email current patients who are seniors, especially those at high risk, inviting them to sign up for appointments through its electronic medical record system.

Advocate Aurora plans to have people sign up for appointments, after they’re notified they’re eligible, via an app.

Health systems expect some seniors may have trouble using technology to sign up for appointments and are offering alternate ways for them schedule shots.

At Loyola, patients will also be able to call their doctors’ offices for directions on how to sign up over the phone, and eventually, Loyola may reach out through the phone or the mail to patients who haven’t signed up electronically, Freeman said.

DuPage Medical Group also expects patients who can’t sign up online will be able to work with their doctors’ offices to make appointments, but DuPage is still working on processes for reaching seniors who are not tech-savvy, Hoscheit said.

CVS will have a 1-800 number to make appointments if people can’t do so online.

Oak Street plans to call patients who are not able to make appointments online.

“One of our goals is to make sure (an inability) to navigate technology or the health care system doesn’t become a barrier to getting the vaccine,” Pykosz said.