CHICAGO – In southern Illinois, public health officials struggle to fill coronavirus vaccine appointment slots as the region sits on a three-week supply of doses.
It’s far different in north suburban Lake County, where slots for vaccinations fill up so fast that the region is able to maintain barely four days’ supply.
Four months into Illinois’ mass vaccination program, a Tribune analysis of state and local data found deep imbalances in vaccine supply and demand.
The state for weeks kept sending doses to places where it was a struggle to sign up enough people to get vaccinated, while other areas — such as greater Chicago — scrambled to find enough doses for the flood of people eager to get a shot.
That has led to large disparities in vaccine supply such as those seen comparing southern Illinois and Lake County, where the thin inventory makes it hard to add more appointment slots in clinics or ship more doses to doctors and pharmacists hungry for them.
After the Tribune began asking questions about the imbalance last week, the state announced it would send nearly 50% more first doses to local health departments in the suburbs. That could soon help make it just as easy to get shots near Chicago as it is in many downstate regions.
Still, a tougher battle may loom in places where inventory has climbed and the pace of shots waned. In areas that include southern Illinois, there remain large numbers of residents who are ambivalent, nervous or leery of getting vaccinated.
In southern Illinois’ Jackson County, state data shows just 30% of those age 16 to 64 have gotten a shot. But even after doses were opened up to everybody at least 16 years old, the county’s clinics were able to fill less than 10% of available appointment slots over one four-day stretch.
“The help we need now is to address vaccine confidence and hesitancy issues,” Jackson County’s health administrator, Bart Hagston, said in an email last week.
The disparities have lingered, and hesitancy has revealed itself, amid an increasingly precarious time of the pandemic.