Bernadette Kelly, 93, got the COVID-19 vaccine when it first came out, and she had the follow-up shots when they came out, too.
But with the latest booster, “I didn’t even think about it,” she said.
While the public health emergency is officially over, COVID-19 is still making people sick, and health officials say they’ve entered a new front.
During the height of the pandemic, people became used to the public health system providing immunizations and treatments at pop-up mass vaccine clinics and public testing sites, Illinois Department of Public Health Director Sameer Vohra said.
Those have now largely disappeared.
“We’re moving to those things being delivered, just like you get everything else, with a regular health care delivery system,” like doctors’ offices, he said.
Vohra said adjustment is “a struggle.”
The change, he said, is “for all the good reasons. We’re no longer in a public health emergency.”
But it’s still a change that requires raising awareness and education.
Kelly ended up receiving her COVID-19 vaccine in early November, at a Rush University System for Health pop-up clinic at the Martha Washington Apartments senior community, where Kelly lives.
Kelly hadn’t intended to get the latest booster; she was meeting her friends for coffee as she does every Monday. On this particular morning, though, Vohra was there, along with Centers for Disease Control Director Dr. Mandy Cohen and American Medical Association President Dr. Jesse Ehrenfeld.
“While we all wish we could be done with COVID, it is still here with us,” Cohen said. “It’s here and making people pretty sick. And what we’re seeing is in Illinois and the Chicago area, COVID starting to tick up. We’re expecting to see more COVID here through the winter season. As we know, when we gather indoors this virus likes to spread. So we want to make sure folks know to get vaccinated now.”
While early November was ideal to get vaccinated ahead of Thanksgiving, now is a good time leading up to those who’ll be in large groups for Christmas festivities.
As has been the case since COVID-19 emerged, Cohen said it’s particularly important for “those over 65 that are at the highest risk of going into the hospital or dying, still, of COVID.”
Rush Hospital outreach street nurse Joshua Dueshop says he is well aware that some people have “COVID fatigue.” But he tries to educate them that it will be like the flu, with an annual vaccine recommended.
“My personal thing is, I tell them to get it (the vaccine) to protect the ones who can’t — babies, kids that can’t get it, adults that can’t get it, are immunosuppressed,” Dueshop said. “So even if you don’t necessarily believe in it, you can get it. You’re still protecting them.”
COVID-19 isn’t the only concern.
RSV, or respiratory syncytia, and the flu are on Cohen’s radar, too.
Flu shots have long been recommended by the CDC.
But for the first time, there’s now an RSV vaccine for adults over age 60.
Infants can also receive a shot to protect against RSV, though there’s been a shortage that Cohen chalks up to pediatricians underestimating demand for the new product.
Cohen said public-private partnerships like the clinic Rush did at Kelly’s senior home show that the healthcare system is continuing to put to use lessons learned during the pandemic.
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