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Legislators deserve spot in vaccine line — just make them run same obstacle course as the rest of us to reach finish line

That means no using clout.  It means no sweetheart assistance from some hospital administrator seeking to curry favor. No help from a lobbyist who knows somebody who knows somebody. And most of all, no direct pipeline to the state’s own supply. 

Drivers with a vaccine appointment enter a mega COVID-19 vaccination site set up in the parking lot of Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles on Saturday.
Drivers with a vaccine appointment enter a mega COVID-19 vaccination site set up in the parking lot of Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles on Saturday.
Damian Dovarganes/AP file

There’s going to be a lot of complaining about Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s decision Wednesday to make state legislators eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine now instead of requiring them to wait until the next phase later this year, but I have no objection.

Legislators have an important job that’s best accomplished by meeting in person, and this should allow them to safely do that, eventually.

I just have one little caveat:

If they want to actually get vaccinated, legislators should be required to go through the same maddening process as the rest of us who are eligible but are still looking for an appointment.

That means no using clout.

It means no sweetheart assistance from some hospital administrator seeking to curry favor. No help from a lobbyist who knows somebody who knows somebody. And most of all, no direct pipeline to the state’s own supply.

If legislators want to get the vaccine, they should jump through the same hoops as the average person in the Phase 1B grouping who became eligible in Illinois last week — which includes frontline essential workers and anyone age 65 and older.

I think they would find it very instructive and help them serve their constituents.

That would require following the same advice the government is giving the rest of us, the most important piece of which is: Be patient. There’s not enough vaccine yet.

We’re told most of us will receive the vaccine through the health care providers with whom we already have a relationship — the hospital systems and doctors who treat us the rest of the year and milk our health insurance. That makes a lot of sense.

Except that if you’ve gone that route you know where it gets you: some version of “don’t call us, we’ll call you,” followed up with a polite “we’ll be in touch.”

Again, that part makes sense to me, too, because they wouldn’t get anything done if everyone was calling all day looking for the few appointments that exist.

The first large-scale community vaccination site in suburban Cook County opened last week in the Tinley Park Convention Center.
The first large-scale community vaccination site in suburban Cook County opened last week in the Tinley Park Convention Center.
Brian Rich/Sun-Times

But you’d think they’d give you some sense of how they’re making those decisions and where you might land in their triage process, assuming there even is one.

Instead, you either have faith that they’ll get to you eventually or you try the next suggestion, such as signing up with a pharmacy.

The pharmacies seem promising. At first, they’re eager to sign you up and get your name in their database, although I found it strange to be answering questions about the color of a car I haven’t owned in two decades to prove that I was really me.

This lasts until you’re actually registered and go through the process of trying to find an open appointment. In some ways, it’s still more satisfying because you feel like you are actually doing something physically to help yourself, even if it’s only typing on a website — unlike the hospital systems that shut you down cold. But, except for the chosen few, the result is the same.

I’d been fairly impressed with Cook County’s vaccine registration system. It definitely gives you the sense that you now officially have established your place in line, if only virtually. It even assigns you a registration number.

A COVID-19 vaccine is administered in January at at Loretto Hospital.
Barbara Shields-Johnson, director of Nursing Services at Loretto Hospital, gets her second and final dose of the COVID-19 vaccine last month.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file

Then, as my colleague Phil Kadner noted, the county sent out notices over the weekend saying there were additional appointments available and inviting people to make an appointment. But he couldn’t get one, and the next day got a notification they were fully booked.

I only got the notification they were fully booked, not the invitation, so at least I never got my hopes up.

The city offered up a vaccine website this week with its own bridge to nowhere, for which I also dutifully registered.

I’m trying not to obsess about it. I only qualify for 1B because I’m 65, and although I have high blood pressure, I certainly don’t think I should be receiving the vaccine ahead of any frontline workers.

If it were up to me, I’d have put school teachers ahead of people such as myself who are in reasonably good health and have no real need to leave home, so that we could get the schools reopened.

But greater minds have lumped us all together, and I certainly won’t pass up an opportunity to get an appointment if I get lucky.

Now the state’s 177 lawmakers have joined the eligible millions waiting in line.

Let them learn the hard way what we already know, eligibility isn’t even half the battle.