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Northern Illinois Residents Drive Hours South To Get COVID-19 Vaccine

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Some people are still willing to drive hours to roll up their sleeves for the COVID-19 vaccine.

While northern Illinois is about to see a spike in open appointments, many who have been hitting red light after red light decided to make a road trip to end the waiting game.

Illinois' sluggish vaccine rollout was in need of a kickstart, so Friday, Sara Novak will join a growing group of Chicagoans heading to southern Illinois for their first shot.

"I pictured myself waiting months, you know, or weeks," she said. "When I saw all the open slots, I was, 'Oh my goodness! This is unbelievable.'"

Unlike Chicago, there was open appointment after open appointment at the state run mass vaccination site in Carbondale -- almost five hours from home. It's a drive she said is worth it.

"The time we spend driving there and back will be the same amount of time or less than we would jockeying all these sites," Novak said.

The facility is state run so it is "open to any Illinois resident" who is eligible. Novak is part of the 1B Plus group recently allowed to receive the vaccine.

Now 7.1% of Illinoisans have gotten both shots. Both Cook County and Jackson County, home to Carbondale, fall just behind at a little over 6%. So why is there so much more availability down south than up north? The Southern Illinois University alumna has a theory.

"It's a little bit different down there than it is here, in a political and religious point of view and skepticisms," she said.

The Kaiser Family Foundation backs her up. Last fall it found 72% of Americans in urban areas said they were either "definitely or probably" going to get vaccinated, compared to 12% fewer in rural America.

County health officials in southern Illinois tell CBS 2 that gap is narrowing.

Novak said traveling south may open an opportunity for the less mobile in the Chicago area.

"It's a way of leaving a spot open to someone up here who can't travel like I can," she said.

The COVID outreach coordinator of the so-called "southern seven" counties downstate said surveys they conducted in October showed 40% of people wanted to get vaccinated. By December that number doubled to 80%. He is not sure if thats because it became more a reality, a spike in cases, or the political season had wound down.

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