By TIM KIRSININKAS
Capitol News Illinois
SPRINGFIELD – More than 3 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered statewide as of March 5, and Gov. JB Pritzker announced a new $10 million public awareness campaign aimed at encouraging residents to get vaccinated.
The announcement comes as Illinois set another single-day record for vaccines administered March 5 with over 132,000 doses administered statewide.
While the governor expressed optimism amid the improving vaccination picture and declining rate of transmission in the state, he said misinformation and hesitancy to receive the vaccine pose potential problems as availability continues to increase.
“Even if we had enough doses today for everyone, we know that many people would still choose not to get vaccinated,” Pritzker said. “While it’s everyone’s choice whether to get vaccinated, we need to be certain that those who are uncertain have all the facts because these vaccines save lives.”
Pritzker said the new multiplatform public awareness campaign will take a “proactive” approach aimed at fighting misinformation and vaccine hesitancy.
The campaign’s messages will feature public health experts such as Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike, medical professionals, and those whose lives have been personally affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This campaign builds on Illinois’ existing messaging, which has used data to inform how to get outcomes that emphasize equity,” Pritzker said.
Pritzker also addressed ongoing issues in achieving racial equity in vaccination efforts. According to data from IDPH, over 68 percent of the state’s 3.1 million vaccinated residents are white, compared to 8.6 percent Latino and 7.9 percent Black.
Pritzker said beginning this week, the state will begin to direct more vaccines to community providers in rural and minority neighborhoods in order to achieve greater equity.
“We have already made enormous progress,” Pritzker said. “Among our most important goals is to get the vaccines to Black and brown people and to more remote areas of the state.”
As the positivity rate continues to decrease and availably of vaccines increases, Pritzker for the first time addressed the possibility of expanded reopening in the coming weeks as vaccines continue to be administered.
“We want to make sure that businesses have the opportunity to begin gradually opening, so we’re making changes and adjustments along the way here,” Pritzker said. “We’ll be announcing some of those coming up over the next few weeks.”
In a Senate committee hearing last week, state Comptroller Susana Mendoza expressed optimism that large-scale outdoor events such as the Illinois State Fair could resume with safety measures in place as soon as this summer, with indoor events like conventions to follow as early as the fall.
Under Phase 4 of the state’s Restore Illinois guidelines, events of 50 people or more are not currently allowed. Phase 5, which allows for some large-scale gatherings with safety guidelines in place, is triggered pending “widespread availability” of COVID-19 treatments and vaccines.
Pritzker said he could not project when large-scale events could be held again, but said the decision to move into the next phase of reopening will be made after taking into consideration vaccination numbers, local transmission numbers and guidance from public health experts.
“This virus doesn’t seem to have a schedule, and we know that when we’ve seen the numbers come down before, there may be something that causes them to go back up again,” Pritzker said.
Pritzker said continued commitment to following public health guidelines would be key to moving forward on a gradual reopening effort and decreasing community spread of the virus.
“I’m very pleased with what we’re doing to keep people healthy and safe in the state,” Pritzker said. “We’re going to try to make sure that we’re moving the economy forward as we’re bringing down the COVID caseload.”
(Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government and distributed to more than 400 newspapers statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.)