Pritzker launches COVID-19 vaccine pilot program for overlooked areas: ‘It truly can’t come soon enough’

Five federally qualified health centers and four safety net hospitals scattered around the state were chosen for the pilot program, including facilities in the south, north and western suburbs.

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Gov. JB Pritzker a vaccination site in Rockford last month.

Gov. JB Pritzker a vaccination site with local and state lawmakers and county health leaders in Rockford last month.

Scott P. Yates/Rockford Register Star via AP

Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced Thursday that his administration will partner with hospitals and health care centers in targeted areas for a COVID-19 vaccine pilot program in order to better reach underserved communities across the state that have “too often been denied health care that should be their right.”

Five federally qualified health centers and four safety net hospitals scattered around the state were chosen for the pilot program, including facilities in the south, north and western suburbs.

Pritzker unveiled the new partnership Thursday at one of the southern Illinois locations, Touchette Regional Hospital in Centreville, which has been ranked the poorest city in the state — and the nation — in previous years.

“We have to meet people where they are, in the ways that will truly earn their trust,” Pritzker said. “We also want to be sure that we’re getting vaccines to Black and Brown people who have, too often, been denied health care that should be their right.”

Starting next week, those hospitals and health centers will receive “hundreds of doses per week” directly from the Illinois Department of Public Health for patients, Pritzker said.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker announces a vaccine pilot program to better reach underserved communities in the state.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker announces a vaccine pilot program Thursday to better reach underserved communities in the state.

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State Sen. Chris Belt, D-Cahokia, said the partnership will not only help with access to the vaccine but also “the trust needed to reduce the residents’ fear and resistance and reluctance to receive the vaccine.”

“The faster we get these shots in the arm, the quicker we can have some level of normalcy,” said Belt, whose Senate district includes Touchette Hospital.

“These additional vaccines that will be here at Touchette Hospital, that’s huge in communities like Centreville, where, in 2018, the USAToday deemed [it] the poorest city, not in Illinois but in the United States,” Belt said. “Having a place in the neighborhood, in the community where residents can go to get these shots, would be huge and beneficial.”

The vaccines provided through the pilot program will supplement doses already allocated to local area health departments thanks to a Biden Administration program designed to deliver additional vaccines to qualifying health centers and hospitals.

A dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is administered at Norwegian American Hospital in January.

A dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is administered at Norwegian American Hospital in January.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file

The administration has increased the country’s vaccine supply, and Pritzker said he expects availability to “soar in the coming weeks,” which could help the state get to 100,000 vaccine doses per day by mid-March, the governor said.

“I can speak for everybody, standing with me today in saying this: this is tremendously welcome news, and it truly can’t come soon enough,” Pritzker said.

So far, the state has administered over 3 million doses of the coronavirus vaccine, Pritzker said. More than 20% of people who are 16 or older, and 44% of residents 65 and older, have been vaccinated so far.

Along with Touchette in the state’s Metro East area, others participating in the pilot program include Family Christian Health Center, which has sites in Harvey, Dolton and Lynwood; Chicago Behavioral Hospital in Des Plaines; AMITA Health Adventist Medical Center in Lisle; Lake County Health Department and its federally qualified site; Community Health Care, Inc. in the Quad Cities area; Crossing Healthcare in central Illinois; and Rural Health, Inc. and SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital in southern Illinois.

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