Confusion and even anger have swelled recently in the Oak Park community over a perceived discrepancy in reporting COVID-19 vaccination rates from the village’s public health department. As residents have taken to social media to air their grievances and demand accountability as to why the village has seemingly underreported the number of inoculated residents, Oak Park Public Health Director Theresa Chapple-McGruder has a relatively simple explanation: The abrupt and substantial increase in the posted vaccination rate is the result of newly acquired data from the state, which the local health department was not privy to until its public issuance.
“The state released new updated data that came from the combination of both [Illinois Comprehensive Automated Immunization Registry Exchange] and federal vaccination clinics,” Chapple-McGruder told Wednesday Journal.
Based on that new data, the village of Oak Park reported Aug. 17 that 68 percent of the village’s population is fully vaccinated, while 72 percent have received at least one dose – or 36,869 residents and 39,456 residents, respectively. Those figures are based on population data from the 2020 U.S. Census and includes children under 12 who are not yet eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccines, which the village report notes.
Those vaccination rates are significantly higher than what the village shared Aug. 1, which stated that 29,565 residents were fully vaccinated with 30,403 residents having received at least one dose. The information included in the Aug. 11 report was taken from the state’s Illinois Comprehensive Automated Immunization Registry Exchange (I-CARE) system, a vaccination record-sharing system through the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH). Federal vaccination clinic data is not included in I-CARE reporting, according to Chapple-McGruder.
IDPH published a combined dataset of I-CARE and federal clinic numbers in a recently released web system that allows the public to view the percentage of people completely vaccinated and those who have received one dose by zip code.
“It’s important for people to understand the data process. We’re talking about reporting real time data as quickly as we have it,” she said. “And anytime that we’re reporting real time data it’s going to be preliminary and is subject to change.”
The new database made its public debut roughly on Aug. 5, but the Oak Park Public Health Department did not find out about it until Aug. 11, according to Chapple-McGruder, who told Wednesday Journal that neither she nor the village of Oak Park received notification from IDPH regarding its release.
“It took a few days of phone calls to understand what went into their system versus what went into ours,” said Chapple-McGruder.
As the federal vaccine clinic data was accounted for in the IDPH zip code vaccination rate database but not in I-CARE, the Oak Park Public Health Department determined the figures from the zip code likely the more accurate as it provides a more complete dataset. For Chapple-McGruder, the fact that the new figures are markedly higher than what was previously believed is ultimately a positive as it means more residents have been vaccinated, despite the figures also being the reason why some community members are lobbing accusations that her department is spreading misinformation.
“This is exciting because it shows that there’s new data out there [that] we didn’t have access to, and it gives a more complete picture of what’s happening,” she said.
The public health director believes it probable that some vaccinated residents are still not being included in vaccination rates. If a resident got vaccinated in different states far from Illinois but not at a federal clinic, the provider would likely not report that information to I-CARE.
“I had one resident tell me that she spends half her time in California and half her time in Oak Park and was vaccinated while in California but considers herself an Oak Park resident,” said Chapple-McGruder. “Those types of numbers wouldn’t be counted here.”
While the new vaccination rate data indicates that Oak Park is in a much better position to thwart COVID-19, the battle is not won yet. The Oak Park Public Health Department has no plans to halt its efforts to vaccinate.
The department hosted its first booster clinic Aug. 19 at the main Oak Park Fire Station, administering third doses of vaccines to immunocompromised individuals. It will hold additional clinics for that population segment in coming weeks.
The mobile health department will also continue to frequent community events, including the popular outdoor Thursday Night Out event series in downtown Oak Park, to vaccinate willing attendees on the spot. Volunteers will be on site to educate and hopefully dispel any hesitancy.
“We still need people to get vaccinated who have been holding out.”