Illinois National Guard members may be administering COVID vaccine shots as state enters distribution Phase 1B

Most people will get shots through their doctors or pharmacies, but Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said if the Illinois National Guard has “competent people who can administer these injections, we can certainly use them.”

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Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., meets with Illinois National Guard members at the Capitol on Wednesday, hours after President Joe Biden’s inauguration.

Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., meets with Illinois National Guard members at the Capitol on Wednesday, hours after President Joe Biden’s inauguration.

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With an urgent need to quickly organize mass COVID-19 vaccinations, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Friday said members of the Illinois National Guard may actually be administering the shots.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker also said in a COVID-19 briefing that guard members will be deployed to set up a total of six mass vaccination sites in Cook County, with 25 smaller sites in high-demand areas, as the state enters Phase 1B of its distribution plan.

Beginning Monday, about 3.2 million more residents will be eligible to start getting shots, including frontline essential workers and people 65 and older.

As more vaccination centers are developed and more people trained to give shots, the crucial part for Illinois is to obtain, on a giant scale, far more doses than it has so far.

Almost 1.5 million doses have been shipped to Illinois, with about 617,000 administered mostly to health care workers and nursing home residents, according to state data. Much of the remainder is being held back for the necessary second doses.

There are about 13 million people in Illinois, and only about 129,000 people have been fully vaccinated — just 1% of the population.

The state has vaccinated an average of 24,190 people per day over the last week, at a rate that is gradually increasing but still limited by “a completely inadequate national supply,” Pritzker said.

“Until the vaccine supply improves we will all, frankly, need to be patient. But we are building capacity, so that as vaccine increases, hopefully over the coming weeks, we will be ready,” the governor said.

Most residents can expect to get their shots through their primary care doctors or with a local pharmacy, by appointment only.

More details on the Illinois National Guard mobilization for vaccine administration — and specific duties — emerged in a call Durbin had with Illinois reporters from his Capitol office.

At least 267 members of the Illinois National Guard were sent to Washington as part of the 25,000 troops mobilized to provide security for the inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris in the wake of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol by pro-Trump supporters.

“My friends in the National Guard, who came out here, told me that they were getting prepared to be part of the effort to vaccinate the people in our state,” Durbin said. “I don’t know any details on what they have in mind, but if they have competent people who can administer these injections, we can certainly use them.”

He added later in the interview, “some of the guardsmen said that they were going to be involved in vaccinations moving forward. That was news to me, that’s good news because if they’re trained to administer the injections, that can be really helpful to us.”

The Army on Jan. 14 announced Illinois was one of 16 states and territories that would be using guard soldiers and airmen to “administer COVID-19 vaccines to public health workers, nursing staff and residents, and other high-risk people.”

Ramping up production of the COVID vaccines and getting the the vaccines shots into more arms is a priority of the Biden administration, which plans to invoke the Defense Production Act to help get the job done.

Biden has pledged to administer 100 million shots in the first 100 days and hire more public health workers.

On Thursday, the day after his inauguration, Biden signed a series of executive orders increasing the production of vaccines and PPE, and to install a national distribution strategy.

Pritzker lauded the Biden’s efforts, saying “48 hours into this new president’s term and 11 months into this pandemic, it finally feels like help is on the way.”

More information on vaccine distribution is available online at coronavirus.illinois.gov.

Lynn Sweet reported from Washington, Mitchell Armentrout from Chicago.

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