You’ve probably heard the news: Starting Monday, any Illinois resident 16 and older will be eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine.
That means 2 million more Illinoisans will be eligible to get a shot.
This marks a major shift in the vaccine rollout, which has so far included tight restrictions on vaccine eligibility to prioritize populations most at risk of getting seriously sick or dying of COVID-19.
The city of Chicago, however, has decided not to follow the state’s timeline.
Here’s what you need to know as the state moves to so-called “universal eligibility,” while Chicago keeps its current restrictions in place until April 19.
Why is the state expanding eligibility?
State leaders say they’re confident vaccine shipments will continue to grow as distributors ramp up production and more vaccines hit the market.
But officials were also very clear: A major reason for expanding eligibility is to stop the spread and creation of new, more contagious variants of the novel coronavirus. Those variants are largely spreading among young adults who, so far, haven’t been prioritized in the vaccine rollout.
“It is important that we begin to address the whole population,” Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker said. “Because the danger of the new variants spreading means that we want every dose to get into arms as soon as humanly possible.”
Why isn’t Chicago following suit?
To be clear: Chicago residents are still eligible to get COVID-19 vaccines starting Monday – they just might need to travel outside the city to find an appointment.
Chicago leaders say they’re not expanding eligibility until April 19 because the city does not have enough vaccine for a wider population.
Because Chicago gets its own vaccine allocation from the federal government based on population, the state has refused to send additional doses from its own allocation to the city. Chicago public health leaders have complained about this, pointing out that many non-Chicago residents work in the city. In fact, 31% of Chicago’s doses have gone to non-city residents.
City leaders have committed to hitting a nationwide deadline to expand eligibility by April 19. Until then, Chicago sites with vaccine supply from the city will continue to vaccinate only people eligible under its 1a, 1b, and 1c phases – healthcare workers, people over age 65 and over, essential workers, and anyone 16 and older who has a pre-existing medical condition.
But, even after the city opens eligibility later this month, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot has warned that appointments still may not be made available for weeks due to a lack of vaccine supply, so people should be patient until Chicago’s vaccine allocation ramps up.
How should I go about getting a vaccine appointment?
You can start by checking out this detailed rundown from WBEZ of where and how to find a vaccine in Chicago and Illinois.
If you’re a Chicago resident with resources to take a road trip, experts say you should do that.
It may be easier to get a vaccine in Indiana or in downstate Illinois, and that way, you’ll save Chicago doses for people who can’t travel. Experts say you’ll also help keep demand up in areas that aren’t seeing enough of it. That could keep vaccine supply flowing to low-demand areas, to ensure residents there who do want a vaccine, can get one.
Under the current system, getting a vaccine will still require time and skills.
Here’s a list of state-run vaccination sites where any Illinois resident, including Chicagoans, will be eligible to get vaccinated.
You can also sign up on the website Zocdoc.
You can also sign up over the phone by calling the Cook County vaccine hotline, at 833-308-1988. Or you can call the state’s vaccine sign-up line at 833-621-1284.
The group Chicago Vaccine Hunters has gained popularity for its crowd-sourced approach to monitoring vaccine availability and tips. Another group, Chicago Vaccine Angels, can help those who are struggling to find a vaccine appointment. You can get help by emailing ChicagoVaccineAngels@gmail.com.
The doctor advocacy group IMPACT also has a regularly updated list of vaccine locations in the Chicago-area.
What does open eligibility mean for high-risk people?
Some people worry that expanding vaccine access could make it even more difficult for those at greater risk of dying from COVID-19. Barriers already include limited vaccine supply, the need for internet skills, and time in order to find a vaccine appointment. Now, millions more people are entering the line for a shot.
The state is trying to counteract this, saying it will save a certain amount of its vaccine allocation for high-risk populations as it moves to open eligibility.
But the Illinois Department of Public Health has not answered questions about what percentage of doses will be saved, or for how long.
In a statement, the agency told WBEZ it’s working with local health departments to set up special vaccination clinics focused on higher risk populations that have not yet been vaccinated.
“Vaccine will be prioritized for those clinics so that those higher risk populations can get vaccinated as soon as possible,” a spokesperson for IDPH said.
But the state says those clinics will not be located in Chicago because it’s on the city to set up its own clinics for higher-risk populations.
Chicago is home to many at-risk people, namely Black and Latino residents who’ve died from COVID-19 at disproportionate rates.
Mariah Woelfel is a general assignment reporter at WBEZ. You can follow her on Twitter at @MariahWoelfel.