Lawmakers talk vaccine with Columbia Chamber

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State Sen. Terri Bryant (R-Murphysboro) and state Rep. David Friess (R-Red Bud) spoke at a virtual Columbia Chamber of Commerce meeting last Friday, mainly addressing the topic of vaccine distribution in this area. 

Both political leaders were highly critical of the state’s vaccination progress and fairness.

“To the question of ‘are you getting your fair share,’ the answer is no,” Bryant told business leaders via Zoom. 

Some complaints the lawmakers explained included those the Republic-Times has already covered, such as their argument prison inmates should largely not be vaccinated before the general population, while others shed new light on efforts to get more COVID-19 vaccines in Monroe County. 

For example, Friess said he has heard the state justify sending more vaccines to certain counties because they do not have a hospital and use that same reason to justify sending fewer doses here. 

He also said Monroe County is getting less vaccine because it does not have some of the manufacturing facilities a municipality like Randolph County does. 

“Unfortunately, I think there may be some politics going into it,” Friess added. “We know no one’s going to admit that.” 

As they work to get more vaccine here, Bryant said she and Friess are emphasizing two aspects she believes give Monroe County “a unique dynamic.” 

“We are fighting right now to make sure that the governor’s office understands that No. 1, Monroe County is made up of a lot of senior citizens,” she explained. “And No. 2, for those who are not senior citizens, that they work in the areas that the governor is deeming a high-risk area.” 

Bryant and Friess also discussed many of the questions they are still trying to get answered or recently got an answer to. In the former category, Friess said he has yet to receive a response from the Illinois Department of Public Health on if and when vaccine supply will increase. 

“The truth of the matter may very well be that they are at capacity,” Friess said, referring to vaccine manufacturers. 

Bryant said the state recently confirmed, however, that mass vaccination sites like the one at the fairgrounds in St. Clair County are for all Illinois residents, not only residents of the county in which they are located like they were when they first opened. 

For that reason, Monroe County Health Department Administrator John Wagner recommends Monroe County residents try to get vaccinated at that site since it is receiving thousands of doses each week. 

To sign up to get notified when you can get the vaccine at that site, click on the form at the top of the St. Clair County Emergency Management Agency’s Facebook page or call 618-825-4447.

The website states the COVID vaccine is only for St. Clair County residents, but that information is outdated. 

“It’s going to be a long fight,” Wagner said of getting more vaccines. “I don’t see anything really changing in the future. In fact, I have an idea it might get a little worse with some of the politics playing into it.”

To help in that effort, the lawmakers recommended the Columbia Chamber work with the Illinois Chamber of Commerce and Illinois Municipal League and that individual business leaders contact the governor’s office and IDPH to voice concerns. 

“The business community has a very loud voice, whether you feel that way or not right now,” Bryant said. “You can certainly give us additional power with the governor’s office and the IDPH.” 

Suzy Schweigert, the Chamber president, voiced support for getting more doses here.

“It does affect our residents and it does affect the overall economic growth of Monroe County,” she said. 

For their part, Bryant and Friess pledged to continue their work on the vaccine front. 

“At some point, they’re going to say ‘we have some doses, and we’d really like for Bryant and Friess to shut up, so we’re going to send some down there,’” Bryant said. “Right now, I think the approach we’re taking is ‘squeaky wheel.’”

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