“Our singular goal is for every Chicagoan, every Chicagoan, to have safe and easy access to the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as possible, and I want to emphasize, folks, at no charge,” Mayor Lightfoot said.
WATCH: Mayor Lightfoot discusses Chicago vaccine plans
The first Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines were administered in the United Kingdom Tuesday. In the U.S., the FDA has not yet approved a COVID-19 vaccine. Pfizer’s is up for review on Thursday.
If Pfizer’s vaccine gets approved, Mayor Lightfoot said the city could begin administering it at 34 hospitals in the city the week of December 14.
“Part of the reason we are doing all 34 of our hospitals at once, even though there’s only 23,000 doses, is that we want to make sure all the vaccine is being used,” Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said.
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The city expects to receive about 23,000 vaccines in the initial batch with more doses coming in subsequent weeks.
“The vaccine development represents a long-awaited milestone in Chicago’s – and the nation’s – fight against COVID-19, and we look forward to working with our citywide partners to ensure the distribution process is executed as efficiently and safely as possible through an equity lens,” said Mayor Lightfoot. “However, as encouraged as we are by the COVID-19 vaccine, widespread community distribution is still months away, and we must remain diligent in adhering to the public health guidelines as we continue to move forward toward a brighter and more resilient future for all of us.”
Week two of the rollout will begin the process of immunizing residents and staff at the city’s 128 long term care facilities. From there, based on federal guidance, it would likely expand to other essential workers, people 65 and over and others with multiple chronic health conditions.
There are about 400,000 health workers in Chicago, including doctors, nurses and staff. The city plans to open up vaccination clinics for health care workers, operating by appointment only.
“The situation is very fluid as we don’t know how many we’ll be getting from week to week, and that will require us to be nimble in how we respond. But I have complete confidence in the team we have assembled to handle this,” Dr. Arwady said. “Since the beginning of the pandemic we have been working with healthcare and community partners on plans to quickly distribute a large amount of the vaccine. This will allow Chicago to start with as much vaccine as possible and continually increase the supply in the weeks and months to follow.”
But how will people know when it’s their turn?
“We’re going to be doing a massive communications and messaging campaign to let people know essentially when they’re next up in the queue,” Mayor Lightfoot said.
“There will be text messages. There will be advertisements. Lots to let people know as vaccine becomes available to them,” Dr. Arwady said.
Officials said many in the first vaccine group, including staff at long term care facilities and support workers at hospitals, come from minority communities. The city vowed further distribution will be done equitably.
“Particularly in the Black community, we’ve had issues as it relates to equity in vaccines in the past,” said Ald. Roderick Saywer, 6th Ward. “We want, we acknowledge that, and we want to make sure that science dictates what goes from this point forward.”
The city says its goal is to have all adult Chicagoans vaccinated in 2021 at no cost to individuals. CDPH said thousands of vaccine providers will be ready as more vaccines become available.
The locations include doctors’ offices, retail pharmacies, hospitals, and federally qualified health centers and will be available on the Vaccine Finder website.
Chicago hospitals prepare for vaccine arrival
Chicago’s health department is working with more than 30 hospitals in all parts of the city to get ready for the vaccine.
Chicago-area hospitals are making plans for round one of the COVID-19 vaccine distribution, without knowing how much they will get.
“We’ve been waiting now to hear what the allocations are going to be,” said Dr. Michael Kelleher, chair of the Amita Health Vaccine Steering Committee. He said the group exists to help make the distribution process as easy as possible, but figuring out who gets it is just one part of a complex plan.
“We’re putting together protocols as well as staff training,” said Ali Ahmed, director of clinical research at Loretto Hospital.
Amita Health officials said those first in line will be “doctors, nurses and support staff who are directly taking care of patients with COVID-19.”
The University of Chicago Medical Center said it plans to start vaccinating employees next week. Hospital officials said they anticipate more than 1,900 doses in the first round. But there will be more to hospital plans than just the number of doses.
“It’s not just how much are we going to get, but how are we going to get it?” Dr. Kelleher said. “The Pfizer vaccine requires ultra-cold storage, which creates logistical difficulties with the distribution of it.”
While smaller hospitals, like Loretto in the city’s Austin neighborhood, are working to make sure they get the same attention as larger medical groups.
“It’s critical that the vaccine is provided to the communities that are hardest hit and need it the most,” Ahmed said.
While many hospitals are still working to craft their distribution plans, the one thing that’s for sure is that a vaccine is on the way.
“We are living through this now, it’s incredibly stressful time but I think now it’s a very exciting time because we can see some light at the end of the tunnel,” Dr. Kelleher said.
Hospital officials are reminding everyone who will not be part of this first round of vaccines to not let their guard down and to continue best health practices.
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