Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker’s administration laid bare Friday the vast racial disparities that exist statewide among those getting COVID-19 vaccinations, with Black and Latinos getting shots at a pace that lags far behind white Illinoisans.
Newly released data posted by the Illinois Department of Public Health showed that slightly more than 7% of vaccinations administered so far have gone to Black and Latino residents, respectively. Asians account for 5% of those Illinoisans vaccinated.
Those rates show both racial groups are underrepresented as Illinois prepares to soon expand its vaccine distribution beyond health care workers, senior citizens and essential workers. Census data shows Black residents account for almost 15% of the state’s population, while nearly 18% are Latino. Asians represent about 6% of Illinois’ population.
White residents have gotten 66% of the vaccine doses administered so far, the data showed.
Pritzker’s administration is immersed in a campaign to boost vaccination participation among minorities by making those aged 16 to 65 who have an array of comorbidities like cancer, diabetes and heart disease eligible for shots later this month.
Despite criticism over those steps because vaccines are in short supply, the governor Friday defended the moves as a way to bring equity to Illinois’ vaccine distribution program.
“By expanding the pool of those eligible to get a vaccine, as our supplies are projected to increase, Illinois is advancing the goals of attaining equity, keeping those most at risk healthy,” the governor said.
The governor also cited data that showed minorities dying from COVID-19 at a significantly lower average age. For whites, the average age at which the virus killed them was 81, compared to 72 for Black residents and 68 for Latinos.
“An undeniable fact is that the minority populations have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. and we don’t want to see growing disparities in the people who are vaccinated,” said state Public Health Director Ngozi Ezike.
“More communities of color are getting vaccinated, and we’re getting closer to being appropriately represented, but there’s room for improvement,” she said.
On Friday, Pritzker’s administration announced it intended to expand the state’s partnership with federally qualified health centers by directing vaccines from the state’s allotment from the federal government to select FQHCs in March.
The focus of that push is aimed at getting more COVID-19 shots to populations that include the homeless, migrant workers, public housing residents and those with limited English proficiency.
Barrett Hatches, CEO of Chicago Family Health Center, which has several clinics on the South Side, welcomed the news. The majority of his patients are Black and Latino, those who are disproportionately getting sick and dying most of COVID-19.
Hatches said he doesn’t yet know how much more vaccine he would receive, but getting regular shipments directly from the federal government means his clinics wouldn’t have to compete for doses with other providers in Chicago. Now, Chicago Family Health receives 100 to 250 doses a week from the city’s public health department, even if the clinics need more.
There’s just not enough doses to go around.
“If that was coming on a regular basis or we knew from one week to the next what that supply would be, we could meet more than the demand that we have,” Hatches said. “I’m happy to say we have demand. We probably have 300 people on our waiting list.”
Dr. Paul Luning, the Chief Medical Officer of PCC Wellness, which runs 13 health centers throughout the West Side of Chicago and near west suburbs. Luning said he’s getting 350 to 400 doses a week from three different health departments, and often has to drive across Cook County to pick them up.
“And frankly we want our staff vaccinating… We don’t want them travelling all over the county. So if we don’t have to go through the bureaucracy of three different health departments, if we can just get it coming straight to us, that would be great,” Luning said.
But Luning isn’t sure how many doses PCC will get, or if the center is even on the list of select FQHCs the government is partnering with in March. Even so, he said he’s weary of relying solely on the federal government for shipments.
“The worst case scenario is we start getting shipments directly from the feds and local departments say, ‘Okay you guys are covered, so we’re going to focus on other areas,’ and then the feds can’t follow through.”
A spokeswoman for Pritzker said the state plans to work with local health departments to ensure FQHCs get what they need, but that a lot of those decisions are local. Chicago’s allotment, for example, isn’t overseen by the state. And exactly how much vaccine the state will get is still in flux, as estimates are only about three weeks in advance.
Dave McKinney covers state politics for WBEZ. Kristen Schorsch covers public health. Mariah Woelfel is a general assignment reporter. Follow them on Twitter @kristenschorsch @mariahwoelfel @davemckinney.