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Crowds Line Up At North Riverside COVID-19 Vaccination Clinic For Boosters Amid Statewide Surge

NORTH RIVERSIDE, Ill. (CBS) -- With COVID-19 surging across the state, health officials are not only encouraging booster shots – but also trying to make it easier to get one.

The emergence of the Omicron variant has made the sense of urgency even greater.

CBS 2's Jackie Kostek got to a Cook County Health clinic at 1800 S. Harlem Ave. in North Riverside around 3 p.m. Sunday. At the time, the line stretched out of the clinic and down the curb.

A clinic representative said around noon Sunday, that line curved around the parking lot and all the way out to road along Harlem Avenue. So if the lines were any indication, there is demand for the booster shot right now.

"We just retired from work and we want to live so we wanted to be fully vaccinated," said Jacqueline Pearson.

To Pearson and many health experts, "fully vaccinated" increasingly means two shots and a booster. That comes as the new Omicron variant is not only spreading, but showing early signs of evading - at least in some way – one- and two-shot vaccinations.

Pearson was among more than 1,000 Cook County residents who got vaccinated or boosted at the Cook County Health North Riverside location Sunday. Last week, 2,886 people got shots across three locations.

The other two sites are at 3250 N. Arlington Heights Rd. in Arlington Heights, at 12757 S. Western Ave. in Blue Island.

The mass walk-in clinics part of the county and state's efforts to get make it easier for people boosted.

"I tried scheduling. I live right downtown. I basically took a day off and walked all over town, walked about four miles," said Eng Tan. "I hit every single Walgreens, and they would not take any walk-ins."

Tan drove a friend to the clinic Sunday after ultimately finding an open booster appointment himself a couple of weeks ago - something he said he felt he needed to do watching the new variant take hold in other countries.

"I got concerned because of the Omicron," he said.

But the country's leading infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci said the Omicron variant may already be leading to an overwhelmed healthcare system.

"Our hospitals - if things look like they're looking now in the next week or - two are going to be very stressed," Fauci said.

As the number of cases in Illinois climb, Fauci and other health experts agree vaccination is still key to warding off severe illness and death. New Chicago data shows unvaccinated people are four times more likely to end up hospitalized with the virus than those who are vaccinated.

This week, President Joe Biden plans to speak about the state of the pandemic and efforts to send federal help to communities across the country.

"Government is prepared now to start sending out surge teams as needed to places that are really hit hard, and the president's going to have more to say about that," said Dr. Francis Collins, outgoing director of the National Institutes of Health.

Tag: About 70 percent of the state's population has at least one shot of the vaccine. A clinic representative also told me that all of the Cook County Health locations offer walk-in vaccinations Monday through Saturday as well.

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