Illinois COVID Vaccine Update: Cook County mass vaccination sites in Matteson, Tinley Park now taking walk-ins

MATTESON, Ill. (WLS) -- Now that COVID-19 vaccine supply isn't as big of an issue, opening up a handful of sites to walk-ins is just one step that local health officials are taking to try and improve access, especially for those still-underserved minority populations.

Just walk in and get your shot. It's that simple. No phone calls. No endless hours hitting refresh online. As of Wednesday, two of Suburban Cook County's mass vaccination sites, Matteson and Tinley Park, are open to anyone, appointment or not, as the county enters the next phase of trying to reach herd immunity.

"We're at 50% and we know that this next 50% we need to get to becomes harder," said Israel Rocha, CEO, Cook County Health. "We're going to have to change hearts and minds to be vaccinated. We're going to have to encourage them to come forward."

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In addition to overcoming vaccine hesitancy, health officials continue to look for ways to improve equity. While an initial push to focus on minority communities was met with some level of success, Black and brown populations in the city and suburban Cook County continue to lag behind their white counterparts.

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Just walk in and get your shot. It's that simple. No phone calls. No endless hours hitting refresh online.

Access to in-neighborhood clinics still lags in some of the hardest-hit areas, where getting to a mass vaccination site is not an option.

"There's not Walgreens and CVS in every low-income, minority community right? And if you're already in a place where transportation access is an issue then, I see what we really need to do is continue pushing efforts to vaccinate people where they work, congregate and live," said Dr. Marina Del Rios, University of Illinois Hospital.

And while officials continue to address those issues, they're also calling on the recently vaccinated, like 16-year-old Makayla Freeman, to help spread the word as they go back into their communities.

"Hopefully get to go back to school for my senior year and you know, get to go to prom and all that," Freeman said. "I hope to have fun this year because it was messed up last year."

For now, only the Tinley Park and Matteson mass vaccination sites will be open to walk-ins. The county said they hope to expand that to others as supply increases, while also looking to expand hours for those who are unable to get away during traditional business hours.

It comes as the state increases doses to the Chicago area, and as online demand for appointments has fallen.

"The period where we were seeing a lot of surge in demand with the early adopters, in the same way that you would see people lining up to buy that iPhone when it first launches, it's changing now," said Dr. Kiran Joshi, Cook County Dept. of Public Health.

Within minutes of hearing the news, Lisa Harrell of Flossmoor brought her 17-year-old daughter to get her first Pfizer dose.

"I called my daughter, told her to stop studying, got into the car and got here in about five minutes," she said.

"I didn't believe it. I was like, no, you need an appointment. We were walking in. Mom was like, no, you can just walk in. I'm like, no you can't. And so we did and then got my shot, and I feel good," Aria Harrell said.

That falling demand is being seen in other counties as well. In DuPage, weekly appointment bookings are down 35 to 50 % from the peak.

"Now our efforts are either on people who are willing to get vaccinated, but it's got to be convenient. It's got to be easily accessible," said Karen Ayala, executive director, DuPage County Health Dept.

Walk-ins for a second dose of Pfizer are also welcome, as long as it's on schedule and the first was administered in Illinois
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