In The News

First health care workers in Illinois get COVID-19 vaccines

Applause erupted as doctors and nurses received COVID-19 shots in Chicago and Peoria Tuesday, a positive step after months of a seemingly uncontainable pandemic that has caused more than 14,500 deaths in Illinois alone.

"This is something we've been talking about and preparing for a very long time," Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Allison Arwady said minutes before vaccinations started at Loretto Hospital.

Vaccinations for health care workers could begin Wednesday at Northwest Community Hospital in Arlington Heights. "We are hopeful," a spokeswoman said. Some other suburban hospitals were shifting plans toward Thursday as they awaited deliveries of Pfizer Inc.'s vaccine.

"Folks are excited. We've been playing defense for the last 10 months. Now we have a chance to play offense," said physician Richard Freeman, regional chief clinical officer for Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood.

The vaccine's arrival in Illinois is a race against the disease responsible for 7,359 new cases and 117 more deaths across the state that were announced Tuesday.

As of Monday night, 4,965 patients were in Illinois hospitals with COVID-19.

The Pfizer vaccine was approved Friday by the Federal Drug Administration with 43,000 doses arriving in Illinois Monday for storage at a state facility.

With images of health care workers getting shots in New York City, some local hospitals had expected to receive vaccines Tuesday while others indicated they were awaiting word from the state.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker noted that large cities are receiving vaccines directly through the federal government, as will Cook and Lake counties. The state is distributing vaccines to 10 "hub" hospitals across Illinois to store, and in most cases county health departments will distribute those doses.

"This is a complex logistics operation to get to all 102 counties, the 96 public health departments and all the hospitals in their jurisdictions," Pritzker said. Vaccine deliveries also require Illinois State Police or local law enforcement as escorts, he said.

Loyola University Medical Center is a hub hospital that will hold vaccines for others like Edward Hospital in Naperville. Doses are expected to arrive Wednesday and staff members will be inoculated Thursday, Freeman said. Officials weren't sure if the doses would arrive frozen and require time to thaw, and they also need to schedule around staff work schedules.

There have been some conflicting messages and subsequent clarifications between all the state and local entities coordinating delivery, but "everyone's doing the best they can and we're almost there," Freeman said. "You always want it quicker and faster and better communications. But we're going from zero to 100 mph."

Another hub, Northshore-Highland Park Hospital, reported Tuesday it was coordinating with five different public health departments.

"At this time, we have learned that our receipt of the vaccine is delayed," public relations manager Carolyn Starks said. "Our overarching goal is to administer a vaccine program that is safe, timely and effective. We are in regular contact with our public health colleagues and please appreciate that these processes and distribution systems are evolving."

Pritzker said there were no delays and that certain hospitals that had scheduled vaccine press events had jumped the gun.

"There are no deliveries scheduled for any of them today," he said Tuesday. "(But) I feel confident over the next 24, 48 and 72 hours, you will see vaccines pushed into people's arms all across the state of Illinois."

He added that federal approval is expected soon for a second vaccine by Moderna Inc. that could arrive in Illinois next week.

Some hospital systems like Northwestern Medicine have locations in Chicago and the suburbs, including Central DuPage Hospital in Winfield.

"As of Tuesday morning, our health system had not yet received our allocation of the COVID-19 vaccine," spokesman Chris King said. "We do anticipate receiving shipments at our hospitals soon. Our plan is to begin vaccinations to our workforce by midweek, and this will occur at a number of Northwestern Medicine hospitals concurrently."

Inoculating the entire state will take months, but "today is the beginning of the process that will allow us to move toward reopening the state entirely," Pritzker said.

Health care workers will be prioritized first for shots, followed by long-term care facility residents. Next will be essential workers and people with underlying medical conditions.

The case positivity rate for COVID-19 cases continued a decline at 8.6% based on a seven-day average. That number is calculated by dividing the number of new COVID-19 cases diagnosed by the total tests processed.

Statewide, 14,509 Illinoisans have died of the virus and 863,477 cases have been recorded.

Illinois Department of Public Health Director Ngozi Ezike encouraged all Illinoisans to get a vaccine when it's available.

"Our ability to create a safe and effective vaccine in a quicker time frame grows with every passing year," she said. Strains of another coronavirus vaccine developed for H1N1 are included in annual flu shots, she said.

Ezike warned against myths circulating about the vaccine, clarifying it does not cause infertility or result in someone getting the virus. "I want to emphasis the COVID-19 vaccine does not contain live virus," she said.