Illinois COVID update: Cook County brings back 3 mass vaccination sites amid appointment shortage

Omicron COVID variant, vaccine mandates driving push to get shots
FOREST PARK, Ill. (WLS) -- Nearly six months after closing them for lack of demand, Cook County is bringing back three mass COVID vaccination sites.

When the last shot was administered at Forest Park's mass vaccination site nearly six months ago, demand had dwindled after shots became readily available at local pharmacies. But with demand again on the rise, Forest Park was the first of three sites to reopen Tuesday.

"So the vaccine is readily available, but appointments to get the vaccine aren't readily available," said Dr. Nimmi Rajagopal, with Cook County Health community and family medicine. "Pharmacies, doctor's offices are really getting overwhelmed right now. So we want to do our part."

The omicron surge and vaccine mandates have led to the appointment shortage, and the numbers are still behind what officials would like to see.

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Cook County Health's Iliana Mora answers your questions as the county reopens 3 mass vaccination sites.



Once open, these sites will offer all three approved vaccines - Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, and people can get either their primary shots or their boosters.

"Eighty percent of Cook County has gotten the first dose and 40% has gotten the booster, so we really need to get that booster number up," Dr. Rajagopal said.

The sites scheduled to open this week are Forest Park on Tuesday, Matteson on Thursday and Des Plaines on Saturday.

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Hours of operation will be Tuesday through Saturday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The county hopes the extended day on Sunday will reach folks who otherwise don't have time during the week.

"We know that certain populations haven't availed themselves to the vaccines, so what we hope to see is church congregations coming on Sundays to get the vaccines here in Forest Park," Forest Park Mayor Rory Hoskins said.

Walk-ins are welcome, but those with appointments will be prioritized.

A steady stream of people was already turning up in Forest Park Tuesday.

Stephen Gallardo came to get his booster, after trying for more than a week to get one elsewhere.

"I've gone to Howard Brown. Most places are booked for a while," he said.

As the surge sparked by the omicron variant continues, ICU beds are filling up.

And while the vaccine doesn't guarantee you won't get COVID, it can help prevent you from getting severely ill.

"Two-thirds of our patients already hospitalized are unvaccinated, and that rate goes up even in the ICU, those that are on ventilators. It's very rare for someone boosted that would then suffer severe disease or complications that would lead to death," said Gregory Huhn, an infectious disease specialist with Cook County Health.

When the doors opened to a waiting crowd in Forest Park, there were some technical glitches to start, with some people waiting close to an hour to their shots. But the county said it was an IT issue, and things are back up and running again.

Rosa Ordaz waited as long as she could to get her booster to protect her loved ones.

"We have a niece and nephew with special needs, them like others with special needs have a hard time verbalizing when they get sick, and so sometimes very often they suffer in silence," she said. "That's one of the main reasons we decided to get the vaccines."

Appointments can be made online at vaccine.cookcountyil.gov.
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