Israel Rocha Jr, Cook County Health CEO, speaks on Thursday, April 28, 2022, at Cook County North Riverside Health Center in North Riverside, Ill. | ALEX ROGALS/Staff Photographer

Cook County officials including Board President Toni Preckwinkle, Cook County Health CEO Israel Rocha and Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson (D-1st) gathered in North Riverside on April 28 to celebrate Cook County Health administering 1 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine.

During remarks inside the Cook County Health clinic at 1800 Harlem Ave. on April 28, Rocha said the organization was one of the first health systems in the nation to notch such an achievement and both he and Preckwinkle acknowledged those who made it possible.

“This is a great day,” Preckwinkle said. “Think about how far we’ve come since December 2020 [when vaccines rolled out]. That context makes this moment really special.”

Nurse Valerie Toussaint, right, administers the Covid-19 vaccination booster on Thursday, April 28, 2022, at Cook County North Riverside Health Center in North Riverside, Ill. | ALEX ROGALS/Staff Photographer

Preckwinkle also thanked state government and health officials as well as the Illinois National Guard, which was called upon to staff mass vaccination sites and other county vaccination sites – including the North Riverside clinic when vaccines were rolled out to the most vulnerable Illinoisans in early 2021.

“Those sites were critical in getting the maximum number of doses into arms as quickly and efficiently as possible in the early months of the pandemic,” Preckwinkle said. “Vaccine administration was a key component of Cook County’s comprehensive COVID-19 response.”

Rocha, who became Cook County Health CEO in December 2020, also praised the county’s ability to operate its mass vaccination sites, like the one set up in a vacant big-box retail property at the Forest Park Mall, to facilitate the county’s vaccination efforts.

In addition, he credited a concerted effort that included not just the county but municipalities, schools, local pharmacies and other organizations for helping increase vaccination rates in Cook County. 

As of April 28, according to the Cook County Department of Public Health, 86 percent of suburban Cook County residents had received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, while 65.4 percent had been fully vaccinated. 

on Thursday, April 28, 2022, in North Riverside, Ill. | ALEX ROGALS/Staff Photographer

Locally, the rates were even higher, with more than 90 percent of Brookfield and Riverside residents having received one dose of the vaccine. In North Riverside it was 86.4 percent.

In Riverside 76.3 percent of residents had been fully vaccinated, compared to 70.4 percent in Brookfield and 69.1 percent in North Riverside.

“We have been able to celebrate today that our community has substantially increased protection against this virus,” Rocha said. “And even though we know that we have seen tides come and go between the different levels of infection, we know the COVID vaccines have made a difference.”

Hospitalizations and fatalities have decreased dramatically as vaccines have become more prevalent, Rocha said.

“When we first set out on this journey our goal was always to reach today, to be able to give one million vaccines to help our county get that sense of relief,” Rocha said.

Vaccines and boosters are still being administered at the North Riverside clinic and standing in for the 1 millionth Cook County resident to receive a dose were Pearl Links Goliath and Frederick Goliath, both senior citizens, who were there to get their second boosters.

According to Frederick Goliath, 80, the couple wasted no time in getting vaccinated when the doses first became generally available back in January 2021, so they were anxious to get their boosters up to date.

“As senior citizens we enjoyed taking the shots when they were offered,” Goliath said. “We got them right away.”