Linda Blunt sat anxiously in the lobby of the Garden House Apartments in Maywood on Thursday, awaiting her turn to receive the single-shot Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine.
She chatted merrily with her neighbors, bounced her legs and held her registration papers tight. Blunt, 65, was more than ready to move on, a year after the pandemic led to a lockdown that has kept her away from her family.
“I just want to see this over with and I want to see us finally get back to normal,” Blunt said. “At least with this we can get halfway to normal because we want to get back to visiting our families and enjoying ourselves.”
Blunt was among 100 residents, caregivers and staff of the senior living community, 515 S. 2nd Ave. in Maywood, who registered to get COVID-19 shots at Cook County Public Health’s pop-up vaccination event.
“We’re meeting residents right here where they are, at their homes, to provide access to the vaccine,” Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said. “I know how hard this last year has been. We’ve seen that seniors — particularly Black and Brown seniors — have been disproportionally impacted by the pandemic and many of us have lost friends and neighbors to the virus.”
Preckwinkle is cautiously optimistic, as vaccines continue to become available for those in more vulnerable communities.
Israel Rocha, CEO of Cook County Health, said by the end of the day Thursday, 200,000 doses of vaccines would have been administered throughout the county. Still, she wants residents to remain patient.
“It took us about four weeks to hit 100,000 and now, two weeks later, we are at about 200,000,” Rocha said. “We hope that we keep increasing with that pace.”
Rocha said a major part of the county’s plan is to create more “point of distribution” sites in areas most impacted by COVID-19. He couldn’t say how many pop-ups like the one in Maywood will be held or how many vaccines will be designated for those locations.
“Pop-up events like this allow us to hyper-focus on vulnerable populations and fill in the gaps as we look at data to make sure that everyone is getting vaccinated,” Rocha said. “We need to make sure that everyone has access to the vaccine and that includes bringing them directly to where they live, where they work and where they are.”
Illinois House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch grew up just down the street from the Garden House. It was a special moment for him, Welch said, to see his constituents and neighbors finally being vaccinated.
“It is extremely important ... a year into this global health pandemic, that we make sure hard-hit communities like the village of Maywood are not overlooked,” Welch said.
Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson took a moment to remember the seniors who died before anyone could be vaccinated.
“With all the deaths that we have experienced over the course of this last year, we know that roughly 85% have been seniors,” Johnson said. “An entire generation that made my life possible have been devastated by this wicked pandemic and now, hopefully, we can move forward with better direction and clarity.”
For 72-year-old Eddie Mae Ferguson, Thursday’s vaccination puts her a step closer to hugging her nine grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
“We have to still wait for them to be vaccinated,” she said, “but I can almost feel them already.”
Manny Ramos is a corps member in Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster Sun-Times coverage of issues affecting Chicago’s South and West sides.