SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – Illinois Public Health Director Ngozi Ezike virtually testified before a congressional committee Tuesday morning. She spent time highlighting ways the federal government could help states get more people vaccinated. Dr. Ezike and officials from several other states told lawmakers major issues have been lack of vaccines and poor communication from Washington. Members
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – Illinois Public Health Director Ngozi Ezike virtually testified before a congressional committee Tuesday morning. She spent time highlighting ways the federal government could help states get more people vaccinated.
Dr. Ezike and officials from several other states told lawmakers major issues have been lack of vaccines and poor communication from Washington. Members of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce thanked the public health officials for their efforts throughout 2020. They also asked what states need to improve response to COVID-19.
Illinois just surpassed one million COVID-19 vaccinations, but Ezike feels the federal government needs to align their effort with the state’s goals. She said they need stronger communication channels and fixes to tools already provided to health departments.
“The federal government should provide states with clear, consistent projections for vaccine allocations to allow and enable planning weeks into the future and continue to update the Tiberias system so that states are working with clear, accurate information and can make appropriate plans,” Ezike explained.
She also addressed a need for a robust IT solution to connect electronic medical records, pharmacy logs, and registration tools. In written testimony, Ezike said Illinois “cobbled” together information from numerous databases to connect people with vaccine providers. She noted that was due to a delay in the federal government’s VaccineFinder solution.
Ezike also said Illinois is grateful for extra funding to support response efforts. However, she stressed states will need more financial assistance for emerging needs.
“As Congress considers the next round of emergency supplemental funding, I encourage Congress to provide supplemental funding to these jurisdictions to support the ongoing COVID-19 vaccination campaign,” Ezike said.
Moving in the right direction
Dr. Ezike said efforts to combat COVID-19 were frequently complicated by decisions from the Trump administration. She said Illinois officials struggled with confusing messaging from the former President when it came to properly wearing masks. Several public health officials from Democratic-led states said the Biden administration is helping states move in the right direction.
Ezike emphasized other countries were able to control COVID-19 well before a vaccine was readily available with focused attention on masking. Ezike said she’s glad to see the Biden administration is making that a top priority, along with promoting vaccines in every community. She feels the federal government should build on community engagement for those hesitant about getting the shot. Ezike stressed no group can be left behind.
“As much as rapidity is important, equity is important,” Ezike said. “Rapidity without equity will result in continued disparity.”
She noted COVID patients in Black and brown communities are three to four times more likely to die than their counterparts. That’s why Illinois has put strong emphasis on the equity lens, hosting virtual town halls in partnership with minority communities.
Still, many older residents are struggling to sign up for vaccine appointments. Ezike said IDPH encouraged local health departments to expand their phone lines to aid people through that process.
“People are creating waiting lists of people who are trying to get the vaccine. They reach out personally and then help schedule that vaccine, so they can call back with an actual time. So we need more people, not just vaccinators, but navigators and community organizations that can help with identifying people who have to get the vaccine that can’t do it through the traditional methods that have been established.”