At Chicago Field Hearing, Mayor Lightfoot and Other Witnesses Push for More Community-Based Approaches to Fight Vaccine Hesitancy

Nov 10, 2021
Press Release
With coronavirus vaccines now available for children 5-11, experts urge more local efforts to increase vaccine uptake in Chicago and beyond

Washington, D.C. (November 10, 2021) — Today, the Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, held an in-person hearing in Chicago on the urgent need to build vaccine confidence and increase vaccinations in the state of Illinois and across the country.  Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi presided over the field hearing alongside Rep. Bill Foster.

Rep. Krishnamoorthi said in his opening statement:

“President Biden, Governor Pritzker, and Mayor Lightfoot have successfully vaccinated millions of Americans.  Over 222 million in total, including 8.3 million here in Illinois and 1.6 million in Chicago.  That’s over 75% of all Americans, Illinoisans, and Chicagoans over the age of 12 who have received at least one dose of vaccine.  In just five months, the vaccine prevented 140,000 deaths across the country.  We know that the vaccine is effective, we know that it is safe, we also know that widespread vaccination is the way to end the pandemic.  … Yet many Americans remain unvaccinated.  Nationwide, more than 20% of all adults and children over the age 12 have not yet received even one dose of vaccine.  … We now have an unprecedented opportunity to increase vaccine uptake here in Chicago and across the country.”

As one of the only PhD scientists in Congress, Rep. Foster affirmed the science proving the effectiveness and safety of the coronavirus vaccines and lauded the work local partners were already doing to help end the coronavirus pandemic: “What we’re here to do today is to figure out how to effectively communicate [proven] data and statistics and ultimately get shots in arms.  Our local health departments and their partner organizations in the southwest suburbs have been working around the clock to get our neighbors vaccinated.  We’ve seen the Will County and DuPage County Health Departments, among many others, run highly successful vaccination campaigns for our communities of color.  I’m incredibly grateful for their dedication, and I look forward to hearing what further support we can give them to get us across the finish line.”

Today’s hearing was divided into two panels and included testimony from Lori E. Lightfoot, Mayor of the City of Chicago; Dr. Ngozi Ezike, Director of the Illinois Department of Public Health; Dr. Helene D. Gayle, President and CEO of the Chicago Community Trust; Dr. Omar Khan, Co-Chair of the Muslim Community Center’s Health & Awareness Committee; Martha Martinez, Manager of the Pandemic Health Navigator Program (Gail Borden Public Library District); Don Abram, Program Manager of the Interfaith Youth Core; and Ben O’Donnell, a coronavirus survivor and Ironman athlete.

Members and witnesses provided the following remarks during the hearing:

Coronavirus Vaccines Are Safe, Effective, and Critical to Saving Lives

  • Mayor Lightfoot emphasized the importance of increasing vaccine uptake, particularly in communities of color.  She stated, “In our city, if you’re a person of color 50 years or older, you’ve got a 50 times more likelihood of death if you’re unvaccinated.” 
  • Dr. Ezike noted that the emergence of the more contagious Delta variant in 2021 underscores the importance of vaccinations.  She said, “This was a different virus.  I kept using the line:  ‘You’re talking about COVID-19.  We’re dealing with COVID-21 right now.’  So you have to understand that this virus has changed, it has newer properties, and they are not properties that work in our favor… that’s why we had to double our efforts for vaccination.”
  • Dr. Khan called on more Americans to get coronavirus vaccines, stating:  “It’s important that we take action in protecting ourselves, protecting our family, protecting our communities, understanding that we are all one big community.”
  • Dr. Ezike highlighted the important role that vaccines have played in extinguishing once-prevalent diseases like polio.  She explained:  “I’ve been a physician for over 20 years, I’ve not treated one case of measles... I don’t have children jumping double-dutch jump rope with braces on their legs from polio.  The only reason we don’t have polio is because of the vaccine.”

Dedicated Hyper-local, On-the-Ground Efforts to Increase Vaccine Awareness, Confidence, and Access Remain Essential to End the Pandemic

  • Mayor Lightfoot described the work the City of Chicago has been doing to diversify its public outreach:  “There’s not a one-size-fits-all approach, particularly when you’re dealing with vulnerable communities.  We have really spent a significant amount of time building partnerships, joining tables that have already been built, and really then using the data and sharing that data with local-based advocacy groups and stakeholders to craft really neighborhood-specific interventions.”
  • Asked by Rep. Krishnamoorthi about the most successful tactics to increase vaccine uptake, Dr. Gayle stated that working in communities and establishing trust is imperative.  She explained:  “There is no silver bullet for building trust and overcoming the obstacles that are faced in communities with lower vaccine rates. We need to meet people where they are and build solutions that meet their needs.”  
  • Mr. Abram told lawmakers that faith leaders can play an important role in increasing vaccine uptake:  “The need for education and the dismantling of access barriers to vaccines remains a present challenge.  As I see it, faith leaders are best poised to craft community-based solutions and outreach strategies that target those hardest to reach.  Sensitive to the particular and niche needs of their community, faith leaders are equipped to meet people where they are.”

The American Rescue Plan and Local Resources Have Been Instrumental in Getting People Vaccinated, but More Work Is Necessary to Ensure Vaccines Are Distributed Equitably

  • Mayor Lightfoot acknowledged the importance of partnerships between federal, state, and local governments and community partners and federal funding for building vaccine confidence and getting shots in arms, noting that the work Chicago has accomplished “would not have been possible without cooperation from all levels of government.”
  • Dr. Gayle added:  “Ensuring the equitable uptake of the COVID-19 vaccine is key to achieving it.  It is both the prudent public health response and a critical first step towards a just and inclusive economic recovery.”

Despite Increased Public Awareness Campaigns, Coronavirus Misinformation Remains a Barrier

  • Dr. Ezike highlighted instances of misinformation she witnesses every day and asked federal leaders for assistance.  “Most public health departments and other health partners don’t really have the resources or the expertise to be able to monitor what the trends are in social media, and so by the time we are actually aware of some of these ideas that have permeated … it’s a very uphill battle to get on top of that because that news spreads so quickly.”

Watch the entire hearing here.




117th Congress