James B Allen | @skyclopsphotojamboree
Jackson County’s system of vaccine distribution, lacking in strict monitoring of patient eligibility, has left an opportunity for some to take advantage.
Illinois vaccinations have supposedly followed a series of phases allowing elderly people, people with medical conditions and essential workers to receive their vaccines first. Carbondale has relied largely on patient honesty to certify that people have met these requirements.
Bart Hagston, administrator of the Jackson County Health Department, explained the screening process that has been in place since December when vaccines first became available.
“People are basically self-certifying that they met the eligibility criteria,” Hagston said. “So whether that was based upon an underlying health condition or based upon their occupation, they were largely self-certifying that information. For people that were qualifying based on age, we were checking IDs.”
Hagston acknowledged this sort of honors system did have drawbacks and said he did not doubt that people were taking advantage of it to skip the line, especially given that the vaccine was in limited supply when it was first released. He said he hoped people would realize that by lying about medical conditions or occupations, they were potentially endangering the lives of others who are more vulnerable.
“Since we were not verifying by checking documentation that people met criteria, I’m sure that opened it up for some level of dishonesty. And what I had to say to people that I felt were abusing the system was that by them abusing the system, they were essentially taking that shot out of the arm of somebody who needed it more,” Hagston said.
The restrictions were also being enforced differently in different parts of Illinois. Devin Escue, a senior forestry major at SIU, said his friends in Chicago had a very difficult experience trying to get vaccinated.
“I know people who came down from Chicago to get vaccinated, as it was easier to get here,” Escue said.
This regional difference can be explained by the vastly different populations in different parts of Illinois. While Chicago is a city bustling with hundreds of thousands of essential workers and closely packed residents of all ages, about 60% of the Carbondale population is composed of college students in addition to an influx of non-residential students who come from out of state, according to the US Census Bureau.
Due to this large percentage of younger people in Carbondale, it is necessary for students to be vaccinated in order to reduce COVID-19 cases significantly in Jackson County.
Amelia Anderson, a junior aviation flight major, said she believes this is the most important goal—getting as many people vaccinated in as short a time period as possible.
“I do think it’s important for certain people to be vaccinated first, but I think it’s more important that a large volume of people are walking through those doors to get vaccinated,” Anderson said.
Hagston agreed with Anderson, and he said SIH does not want to discourage any adults from getting the vaccine because every shot is a step closer to herd immunity and a safer environment for everyone.
“As a provider of COVID-19 vaccines, we were required to ensure that we were only administering vaccines to those that were eligible at any given time, so we were following those procedures,” Hagston said. “But at the same time, we were anxiously anticipating the day that we could stop having those requirements and could vaccinate anyone that wants vaccinated.”
Because vaccines are now more readily available, Hagston said all SIU students are now eligible to receive vaccines, and beginning April 12, all Illinois residents ages 16 and up will be eligible. He said the most important thing is for people to tell their friends and families about their experiences to help lower any fears.
Will Robinson, a senior in aviation management, is one of these people who had only praise for the system of vaccinations he experienced at the Banterra Center and said he wanted to encourage everyone to get vaccinated.
“From when I walked in, I had the shot within two minutes,” Robinson said. “The sooner everyone is vaccinated, the sooner severe and lethal cases can go down, and everyone can hopefully see a life that is closer to our normal again.”
Staff reporter Elena Schauwecker can be reached at [email protected]
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