Some elderly Illinois residents may be waiting for weeks to get their COVID-19 vaccines even though health officials there, and in several other states, began giving out shots on Monday to residents of long term care facilities.
And the farther they are from major population centers the longer the wait even though rural areas are among those with the greatest spikes in virus cases and deaths, and despite that long-term care facilities face the highest death rates from the virus.
“They tell us it won’t be until some time in February,” says Jacki O’Keefe, administrator of Heritage Woods, an assisted living facility in Rockford, Illinois about 90 miles northwest of Chicago. In an interview with FOX Business O’Keefe says she understands larger population centers are the priority but waiting more than a month was unexpected “We had this light at the end of the tunnel and now it seems pretty dark again,”
Less than 2 percent of positive COVID-19 cases result in death throughout the general population, according to data from Johns Hopkins and The Covid Tracking Project. But in long-term care facilities, it is more than 12 percent.
A Wall Street Journal analysis found that the top 25 U.S. counties with the highest per capita cases during the past two weeks were rural with less than 50,000 residents. In addition to designating major population centers as priorities for the vaccine distribution, there are logistical issues related to the need to keep the medicines super cold. But the impact of delayed access in rural areas could be exposed to those locations to added risk.
Officials worry that rural areas have more “vaccine-averse” residents and those who remain skeptical about the pandemic in general. They fear a late rollout of vaccines to those areas could leave pockets of COVID-19 hot spots and delay their return to any semblance of normal life.
That “normal life” is what residents of the still locked down Heritage Woods are seeking too. Each of the elderly residents interviewed by FOX Business said they were eager to get the vaccine so they could resume eating together and visit with relatives.
“People are disappointed and excited to get (vaccinations) started,” says Nicole Anderson, a registered nurse who cares for residents at Heritage Woods and other assisted living facilities. She says it’s hard for residents to hear some in Chicago are getting the shots today but it will take more than a month to reach them here. “It’s a long time for people who don’t know how long they have left in their lives anyway.”