CHICAGO — Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Tuesday stepped up his public relations campaign to convince Illinois residents that an experimental coronavirus vaccine that could be authorized by the federal government this week will be safe to take. Pritzker and the state’s public health director, Dr. Ngozi Ezike, said the initial 109,000 doses of a vaccine could arrive in Illinois as soon as next week.
It was no accident that the Democratic governor had Bonnie Blue — a 68-year-old African American woman who took part in a coronavirus vaccine study — join him at his daily coronavirus news briefing to speak about the importance of inoculation.
“Bonnie Blue is an example of somebody who people should listen to, she has no ax to grind here,” said Pritzker. “She’s simply telling people that as a 68-year-old black woman she has underlying health issues (and) she took the vaccine and she is doing very well.”
Pritzker and Ezike, said a major concern is that people — including health care workers — will be reluctant to get the vaccine because of misinformation, particularly from the anti-vaccination community, that has been around since long before the pandemic began.
“I would hope people would simply read about the science … to what doctors are saying, and be able to overcome the rumors they hear on Twitter, Facebook and other social media,” Pritzker said.
That was Blue’s message, too.
“For me to take part in this trial was a huge risk, a risk that my family and friends were not happy I had taken,” said Blue, who said she has struggled with asthma her whole life. “But I am here, I am fine, I didn’t have serious affects from anything.”
Of particular concern all over the United States is that many people, particularly African Americans, will simply refuse to get vaccinated because of a deep distrust of the government and the medical establishment.
Ezike, who is Black, said she understands that winning the trust particularly of African Americans will be difficult. She said the infamous “Tuskegee Syphilis Study” that let hundreds of Black men in rural Alabama go untreated for syphilis for 40 years for research purposes was just one of “many examples” of the government harming Blacks.
“There is a lot of work to be done here, there are a lot of very valid reasons why this skepticism exists,” she said. To address that, Ezike said she will be working with the Urban League, other groups and churches statewide “so we can give the appropriate information and dispel the things that are clear myths.”
Pritzker said vaccines could reach Illinois as soon as early next week for distribution. Health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities would be the first to receive vaccinations, he said.
The state health department reported Tuesday that Illinois’ pandemic death toll climbed by 145 in one day to 13,487. It said the number of confirmed or probable COVID-19 cases climbed by 7,910 to 804,174.