Gearing up for future mass vaccinations in Illinois, Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s Administration recently added dentists and emergency medical technicians to the ranks of those who can give COVID-19 shots.
The moves, both done through the governor’s pandemic emergency declaration, follow a national trend to make sure there are plenty of qualified people to administer vaccines.
In Illinois, doctors, nurses, pharmacists, nurse practitioners and physician assistants — and even some nursing students — are among a narrowly defined group of health care providers who can give COVID vaccinations.
While each state decides its own rules, national groups have advocated for an array of health workers to help give the millions of shots that will be needed to end the pandemic. The American Dental Association, for instance, passed a resolution in October to support the use of their members to administer COVID shots.
More than 600 Illinois dentists have been trained to vaccinate so far, said Dave Marsh, director of government relations at the Illinois State Dental Society.
The training takes an hour and was prepared by dental schools in Illinois along with the state association, he said.
Initially, dentists will likely pitch in at mass vaccination sites but eventually they may be able to vaccinate at their own offices if additional therapies, such as the yet-to-be-approved single shots from Johnson & Johnson, become available. That vaccine doesn’t require the unusually strict ultra-cold storage required of the two vaccines by Moderna and Pfizer that are currently being given.
“People trust their dentists,” Marsh said. “If you trust them giving a shot in the mouth you can trust them giving a shot in the arm.”
Marsh expects more of the state’s more than 8,000 active dentists will go through training, though there’s not enough vaccine flowing into the state yet to create much demand, he said.
“We’ll be prepared when that happens,” Marsh said.
Some dentists are already volunteering to give shots through the Lake County Health Department, a spokesman said. They’re joined by doctors and nurses.
The Cook County Department of Public Health has set up three large-scale vaccination sites, although they were temporarily closed this week because of the weather. Up to 180 vaccinators — including members of the Illinois National Guard — are giving shots every day, a department spokesman said.
At Rush University Medical Center, doctors, nurses, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, pharmacists, pharmacy technicians and supervised pharmacy students all give vaccines, a spokesman said. Nursing students, supervised by registered nurses, are also administering shots.
Brett Chase’s reporting on the environment and public health is made possible by a grant from The Chicago Community Trust.