May 16, 2022

Is omicron encouraging more Illinoisans to get vaccinated? Not really, data shows.

Eden Gomez, 5, of Carpentersville, watches as nurse Maggie Juarez applies a bandage over her first dose of the Pfizer vaccine on Friday, Dec. 3, 2021, at Advocate Children's Medical Group in Crystal Lake.  Children ages 5 to 11 are now eligible for COVID-19 vaccines.

The arrival of the highly contagious omicron coronavirus variant hasn’t seemed to encourage many more Illinoisans to get a COVID-19 vaccine, according to state data.

Statewide, the number of people fully vaccinated increased 6.1% since Nov. 24.

New vaccination trends since omicron was first detected in South Africa around Thanksgiving show how Illinoisans have reacted to the latest viral wave, which began hitting the United States over the holidays.

The number of Illinoisans getting the vaccine didn’t climb substantially after South African health officials raised concerns about the highly contagious omicron variant. The data shows vaccination rates in Illinois since Nov. 24, 2021 to present have increased by fewer than 7%.

The first case of omicron was reported by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Dec. 1 in a person in California who had recently returned from a trip to South Africa on Nov. 22. The person reported mild symptoms.

The variant was first reported to the World Health Organization by South African health officials on Nov. 24, the day before Thanksgiving. It was declared a ‘variant of concern’ by the WHO after early reports showed a dramatic spike in cases around surrounding communities days following initial detection, and prevalence to breakthrough existing vaccine immunity due to the way the virus had mutated.

Since then, health experts across the country have issued resounding calls for those who don’t have any immune protection yet to get vaccinated, and encouraged those who have to get boosted. And in the weeks since, record cases have swirled amid surging hospitalization numbers, overwhelming area hospitals.

Overall, the state reported 61.3% of Illinoisans are fully vaccinated, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. That’s more than 7.8 million people, and fewer than half of the total administered doses in the state, which the IDPH reports is 19,893,424.

And what about an increase in people seeking a first dose vaccination? Data shows first doses have increased 6.8% in Illinois.

The slight upward trend doesn’t include those aged 5 to 11, however, said Melaney Arnold, public information officer for the IDPH.

It’s not clear whether that’s because a pediatric vaccine for children as young as 5 didn’t become available until the first week of November. Or if it’s because of the stagnate rate of child vaccines since the initial eligibility opened.

“Overall, we have recently seen a slight upward trend in vaccination for all ages, with the exception of 5-11 years,” Arnold said. “Vaccinations available for 5-11 years were too new for omicron to have a noticeable effect. We are seeing steady vaccinations of that age group over the past several weeks.”

Arnold said pediatric vaccinations are averaging between 20,000 to 25,000 first doses per week in Illinois.

Vaccinations among children aged 5 to 11 surged after the shots were introduced in November, but the numbers have crept up slowly since then, and omicron’s explosive spread appears to have had little effect, health officials told The Associated Press last week.

The low pediatric vaccine rates are “very disturbing,” said Dr. Robert Murphy, executive director for the Institute for Global Health at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. “It’s just amazing.”

The rate of those seeking booster shots amid the omicron wave is also fairly stable, Arnold said.

In Illinois, 3,509,466 booster doses have been administered. Health officials say boosters offer the strongest form of protection against omicron, and are most likely to deter severe cases of COVID-19, hospitalization or death compared to those who have had two doses or aren’t vaccinated at all.

According to data reported by the CDC collected from case studies in South Africa and the United Kingdom when omicron was first detected, two doses of an mRNA vaccine (Pfizer and Moderna) offered about 35% chance of protection against omicron. Two doses plus a booster increased that infection protection to 75%.

“So we know they work, we know the booster provides additional protection,” said Lisa Gonzalez, public health administrator with the DeKalb County Health Department.

A mass vaccination clinic recently was held in DeKalb County at Northern Illinois University’s Convocation Center. Of the 531 doses administered during the day-long clinic, more than 400 were booster shots.

By the numbers

Data shows how vaccination rates have increased slightly across Illinois since omicron was first detected Nov. 24, 2021.

The highest percent change was reported in the southern Illinois 62846 zip code, data shows, which reports a 44.6% fully vaccinated rate. Since Nov. 24, the number of residents fully vaccinated increased by 24.8%.

Several areas reported a zero-percent increase in vaccination rates since omicron arrived, including: 0% in the northwest 61243 zip code, Deer Grove, (39.92% fully vaccinated) and north-central city of Ransom, in the 60470 zip code (54.12% fully vaccinated).

In the DeKalb zip code (60115): 5.3% increase in fully vaccinated since omicron arrived (48.16% total residents fully vaccinated)

In the Crystal Lake zip code (60014): 5.9% increase in fully vaccinated residents since omicron arrived (65.14% total fully vaccinated)

In the Joliet zip code (60435): 5.7% increase in fully vaccinated since omicron arrived (55.96% total fully vaccinated)

In the Dixon zip code (61021): 5.1% increase in fully vaccinated since omicron arrived (57.68% total fully vaccinated)

In the Aurora zip code (60502): 8.5% increase in fully vaccinated since omicron arrived (75.87% total fully vaccinated)

In the Oswego zip code (60503): 8.4% increase in fully vaccinated since omicron arrived (69.85% total fully vaccinated)

In the La Salle zip code, (61301): 5.5% increase in fully vaccinated since omicron arrived (56.84% total fully vaccinated)

In the downtown Chicago zip code (60611): 2.5% increase in fully vaccinated since omicron arrived (80.65% total fully vaccinated)

Vaccination rates are calculated by the total population number of a zip code and the number of full doses of COVID-19 vaccine given to each person eligible.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Kelsey Rettke

Kelsey Rettke

Kelsey Rettke is the editor of the Daily Chronicle, part of Shaw Media and DeKalb County's only daily newspaper devoted to local news, crime and courts, government, business, sports and community coverage. Kelsey also covers breaking news for Shaw Media Local News Network.