Dear Governor Pritzker,
It’s been over a year since Illinois’ first positive COVID-19 case. Since then, those in long-term care facilities have been dying, families haven’t seen each other in months, and our economy has faced historic obstacles. Yet, with a vaccine in hand, Illinois has failed its residents.
The numbers are staggering. According to your Illinois Department of Public Health, of the 537,050 doses of vaccines available and allotted to our long-term care facilities, only 20 percent of them have been administered to its residents—a population that makes up nearly half of COVID-related deaths. That is unacceptable.
Additionally, according to the New York Times, Illinois ranks 47th in overall vaccine distribution, with just 4.8% of Illinoisans receiving at least one shot as of today. We are dead last compared to our sister states—Florida, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas and California.
We are asking for you to provide a clear explanation to legislators and to the citizens of Illinois as to why Illinois is among the worst states in regard to getting vaccines out to those who need it most. With all due respect, blaming the previous President, the federal government and CVS/Walgreens simply will not suffice.
Since the pandemic began, you decided on a go-it-alone approach, one that left the Legislature, an equal branch of government, sidelined. You need to empower us as legislators by including us in this process so we can help our constituents who are calling us every day asking why they or their loved ones have not been able to access a vaccine.
It’s up to you to provide full transparency and implement the coordination necessary to maximize the rollout of this vaccine. Anything less is a huge disservice to the people of Illinois and will cost lives.
Members of the Illinois Senate Republican Caucus
To the Illinois Senate Republican Caucus,
Building out an equitable, efficient, and transparent vaccine distribution plan in Illinois has been my priority since the scale of this pandemic first became clear nearly a year ago. Our Illinois Vaccination Administration Plan coordinates our 97 local health departments on the frontlines in their communities, strengthens their efforts by directing vaccine to hundreds of Walgreens, CVS, Jewel-Osco, Hy-Vee, Mariano’s and Kroger locations, and backs it all up with the force of the Illinois National Guard, who are in the work of supplementing and standing up mass vaccination sites around the state.
My administration has made $25 million in state-funded grants available to local health departments to beef up their staffing, training and rental space – all of which have been challenging obstacles for these departments to overcome.
Furthermore, Illinois is on the right trajectory: we hit records on both Wednesday and Tuesday this week. In fact, as we have helped local health departments overcome their challenges, the State of Illinois is administering more doses a week than it is receiving from the federal government.
Though our work won’t be finished until all of our residents have access to the vaccine, the design of this system is paying off. Per the exact New York Times database you cite, Illinois is the seventh in the nation for total number of doses distributed – right beside our “sister states” of California, Texas, Florida, New York, and Pennsylvania. All but one of those states has received more vaccine on a per capita basis than Illinois has at the CDC’s last count – and yet, we have kept up with them despite having less to work with.
In the future, we expect that having a partner in the White House will advance our efforts. For example, FEMA announced today that Illinois will receive $43 million in additional funding to expand our mobile vaccination operations and offer more easy-access locations for our residents as the national vaccine supply increases. This comes on top of the Biden Administration’s announcement that it is pursuing major staffing infusions and securing 200 million additional vaccine doses.
Of course, as I and governors across the political spectrum have made clear, the current national vaccine supply pipeline is completely inadequate for national demand – a product of the previous presidential administration, whether or not you’d like to name it as such. In a country of 330 million, the CDC estimates that only enough doses to fully vaccinate about 23 million people have even gone out the door – and that doesn’t count delays in administration or reporting.
There is additional national bipartisan consensus on the insufficient preparation of the Trump Administration’s Pharmacy Partnership for Long-Term Care vaccination program; most notably, that while 49 of the 50 states enrolled in the welcomed federal assistance for prioritizing our most vulnerable residents, the federal government did not ensure that CVS and Walgreens had the proper staffing. Indeed, the national program spent half of December accumulating precious doses, not actually delivering a shot into an arm until weeks after states had started this process.
Part of the problem, in Illinois and nationally, is vaccine hesitancy, and I encourage you to address disinformation and lies about the origin and purpose of these vaccines, which are becoming increasingly prevalent in conservative media. We saw this same phenomenon with the disinformation about masking, social distancing and following public health guidelines contributing to increased spread.
While I look forward to working together to address the economic crisis of this pandemic and invest in our residents’ recovery when the legislature does return, in the meantime, I encourage you to make clear to Illinois’ Congressional delegation the need to support additional funding to support our Department of Public Health, our children’s school systems, our first responders doing yeoman’s work and the job creation initiatives our working families need to build back stronger from this pandemic. Additionally, you can encourage your constituents to do their part to mitigate this pandemic until we reach widespread vaccination by staying masked up, keeping our distance, following public health protocols and treating our neighbors with respect.
As you noted, this last year has been immensely difficult for our residents and for all Americans, with far more death, distancing and economic devastation than any one person should experience in a lifetime. I would love to vaccinate all 12.7 million Illinoisans right now so we can begin to rebuild our lives, revitalize our economy, and properly address the traumatic experiences of the last year – but you know as well as I do that a lack of national supply means a lack of vaccination appointments. I encourage you to be a model for patience in your communities. As public servants, our job isn’t over until all the people we serve can claim good health for themselves and their loved ones. It will take all of us, working together and with haste, to keep our people safe and bring this pandemic to a close.
Governor JB Pritzker