Pritzker announces $60 million state program to help combat vaccine hesitancy

About 65 community-based organizations and 23 health care centers are helping with the program outside of Cook County.

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A COVID-19 vaccine dose is administered Thursday at Richard J. Daley College.

A new statewide program will work to help people who contract COVID-19 and aim to dispel fears about the vaccine.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file

Gov. J.B. Pritzker and health care leaders announced a new program Monday aimed at dispelling myths surrounding the COVID-19 vaccine in vulnerable communities and putting resources into the hands of people who are still being infected by the virus.

“This program is about one-on-one connections involving established, trusted members of the community,” Pritzker said at the news conference. “Whether that is a federally qualified health center or a church, an LGBTQ+ center, a senior center or a local branch of the NAACP.”

The Pandemic Health Navigator program will help residents in over 100 counties statewide get vaccinated or answer any concerns about the vaccine. It will also help those who have contracted the coronavirus by getting resources directly to them. Those resources include connecting families to food, educational resources, rental assistance and utility assistance.

The announcement of the program arrives as state health officials reported just 50,512 doses of the vaccine were administered on Sunday — the lowest since April 4 when only 27,248 doses were shot into arms.

Pritzker said his administration has worked hard to make the vaccine easily accessible with about 9 million people already receiving doses of COVID-19 vaccine, but the state needs to do more than make shots available to people.

The $60 million program will help do that by “building confidence among our unvaccinated residents,” Pritzker said.

“A year into this pandemic, many of our residents might still be unsure about the risks of COVID or may be wondering if the vaccine is really worth it or if it is really available to them — especially if they’ve been denied easy access to health care in the past,” Pritzker said. “For others, misinformation packaged as truth-telling on social media makes the decision to get vaccinated nerve-racking.”

State health officials on Monday also reported 2,137 new coronavirus cases with 10 more deaths. This brings the state’s pandemic tally to 1,323,170 documented cases and 21,836 deaths.

The new cases were found among 49,236 tests completed over the past 24 hours which keeps the seven-day statewide positivity rate at 3.5% for the second day in a row.

State health officials said 8,860,975 doses of vaccine have been administered, with the seven-day rolling average of 105,873 doses going into arms.

As of Sunday night, there were 2,083 people hospitalized with COVID-19. Of those, 506 patients were in the ICU and 251 patients were on ventilators.

About 65 community-based organizations and 23 health care centers are involved in the Pandemic Health Navigator program, which will serve counties outside of Cook County. There are more than 400 community health workers and regional supervisors in place, with a goal of hiring hundreds more over the next several months.

This program is a partnership between the state, the Illinois Public Health Association, the Illinois Primary Health Care Association and the OSF Healthcare System.

“We are proud to team up with community-based organizations who have been and continue to conduct grassroots outreach and to help train a workforce designed to address unmet needs,” said Cyrus Winnett, interim president and CEO of the Illinois Primary Health Care Association.

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.

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