Seniors are pushed aside in Illinois COVID-19 vaccination program

Seniors are pushed aside in Illinois COVID-19 vaccination program
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Seniors are pushed aside in Illinois COVID-19 vaccination program

Illinois isn’t even halfway through giving COVID-19 vaccinations to seniors and Gov. J.B. Pritzker is already talking about expanding the eligibility list for vaccinations to include others. The truth is we don’t have enough vaccinations to go around and what we have is being dished out to everyone based on clout. Seniors are a top priority but they are being pushed aside. That needs to change

By Ray Hanania

Almost everyone wants to get the COVID-19 vaccination, but unfortunately, as we know, there is not enough of the vaccine to go around.

We heard complaints during the presidential election between the two candidates, Trump and Biden. But since the election has ended, the vaccination shortage has continued, and many even argue, has worsened.

When you put the political rhetoric and hyperbole aside, it comes down to this. No matter who is in office, the robber baron pharmaceutical companies which have gotten rich by exploiting the suffering of the needy don’t want to over produce it. They want to control it. That’s how they make their money.

Pharmaceutical companies don’t produce prescription drugs or vaccines to fight ailments. They produce them to profit, the slower they produce them, the higher the demand. The higher the demand, the more expensive their products become.

Seniors receiving vaccinations and medical care by doctors. Photo courtesy of the CDC and Unsplash. Coronavirus, COVID-19, pandemic

Seniors receiving vaccinations and medical care by doctors. Photo courtesy of the CDC and Unsplash

The problem starts in Washington D.C., not just with one president but with all of them. The pharmaceutical companies have Washington D.C. in their back pockets, bought through the hundreds of millions of dollars they shave off from their hundreds of billions in profits to donate to members of the U.S. Senate and the U.S. Congress, and every administration.

The pharmaceutical companies don’t suffer, because they claim they are producing the vaccines as fast as they can, regulated by government. The politicians don’t suffer because they are getting fat donations from the pharmaceutical robber barons and they are out there on the frontlines urging everyone to get vaccinated.

Of course, members of Congress and the Senate and the administration get their vaccinations first.

What’s left is a paucity of vaccines, not enough to handle the hundreds of millions of people who need it, regulated by each state which decides who gets what.

In Illinois the decision on who gets vaccinations is made by Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who runs his government based on grudges. You criticize him, he doesn’t like you and pushes you to the back of the line.

And he doesn’t enforce his own guidelines.

After first responders and essential workers, seniors who are 65 years of age or older, are also supposed to get the vaccinations. But the fact is very few have. There are a lot of reasons for that.

First, seniors are older and many of them need assistance and can’t navigate the difficult and complicated process of signing up for the vaccinations.

I am over 65 with health conditions and I have tested the system. I have signed up for all of the vaccination programs, but every time I go online to schedule an appointment, none are available.

Why is that? Well, because seniors are an afterthought in Illinois. That’s why programs for seniors are anorexic, and why taxes are so high. Illinois offers so few real services to seniors and absolutely no support for seniors who are in most need of medical assistance. Some seniors are lucky to have good health care but most are not and have to struggle through a system that favors the young.

Rather than focus on that problem, Gov. Pritzker is instead responding to politics. They’re going to start giving vaccinations to teachers, a powerful voting group that Pritzker needs. They are going to give vaccinations to criminals who are in prison or who have been charged with crimes and are awaiting trial. Bartenders and people working in human resources – most in their 50s or younger – are getting vaccinated, too.

Meanwhile, the majority of seniors in nursing homes are still waiting to get their vaccinations. Those seniors are in a system that should be a top priority.

The majority of the seniors in the state, who are not in nursing homes, are also waiting to get vaccinations.

But instead of concentrating on how to complete those groups, Pritzker is already playing politics and is planning to open up the recipient list to include others, people with underlying conditions who are not seniors.

I’m not saying non-seniors shouldn’t get the vaccination.

What I am saying is that the system we have is not working.

The state has been very clear that vaccinations should be administered based on priorities, first to the two priority groups which include seniors, 1A and 1B.

Here are the state’s precise definitions of those Groups:

Phase 1A

The first phase of vaccinations includes frontline healthcare workers as well as residents and staff of long-term care facilities. The goal is to fortify the healthcare workforce by removing the most exposed workers from the cycle of illness and infection as well as protect our most vulnerable residents. Most recent evaluations of Illinois’ healthcare workforce and nursing home and long-term care facility residents and staff estimate approximately 850,000 Illinoisans qualify for Phase 1A. Healthcare vaccinations began on December 15, 2020, with the federal government’s nursing home and long-term care vaccination program delivering its first shots on December 28, 2020. The state estimates that all interested residents in Phase 1A will be vaccinated in the coming weeks.

Phase 1B

On January 25, 2021, Phase 1B will begin, allowing frontline essential workers and residents age 65 and over to get vaccinated. The frontline essential workers designation includes many residents who carry a higher risk of COVID-19 exposure because of their work duties, often because they are unable to work from home, and/or they must work closely to others without being able to socially distance. This includes first responders, K-12 education workers, food and agriculture, manufacturing, corrections workers and inmates, USPS workers, public transit workers, grocery store workers and staff at shelters and day cares. To provide more equitable vaccine access to elder populations given data showing people of color die of COVID-19 at younger ages, Illinois lowered the age eligibility recommended by ACIP by 10 years, from age 75 to age 65. Illinois has 1.3 million people who qualify as “frontline essential workers” and 1.9 million adults age 65 and over, totaling 3.2 million eligible Illinoisans.

In a few weeks, Pritzker, responding to political pressures and wanting to show “progress,” will expand those groups to include 1C, or people who are not seniors who have underlying conditions.

Does that make sense when the majority of seniors in Group 1B are still struggling to get their vaccinations?

The real problem is Illinois doesn’t have enough vaccines.

The state claims as of this week that 1.4 million Illinois residents have received the vaccinations with only 311,000 receiving the second shot. There are nearly 13 million people in Illinois, and more than 2 million are seniors.

Why doesn’t the state break those numbers down into groups? Because I believe the numbers will show that many people outside of groups 1A and 1B have been given the vaccinations. It will also show that the majority of Illinois seniors, probably more than 70 percent, are still struggling to get scheduled.

Before the state moves ahead to open the vaccinations to everyone, it should ensure that the people who have been designated as needing it first should get their vaccinations.

But issues of politics, poverty, race and clout are standing in the way.

All those people who have heaped all of Illinois’ problems on the back of former Illinois House Speaker Michael J. Madigan can’t use him as the scapegoat or excuse any more. They have to answer the question. Why isn’t the state working?

And more importantly, why haven’t the majority of seniors aged 65 and older received their vaccinations yet? I argue it’s because the officials don’t really care.

(Ray Hanania is an award winning columnist and former Chicago City Hall reporter. Reach him at www.Hanania.com or by email at rghanania@gmail.com.)

Ray Hanania

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