In The News

Five Nurses, Doctors First to Get Vaccine in Chicago at West Side Hospital

Five nurses and doctors became the first people in Chicago to be vaccinated for the coronavirus Tuesday morning at a West Side hospital in the middle of a Chicago neighborhood ravaged by COVID-19.

City officials chose The Loretto Hospital, a 122-bed medical facility in Austin, for the first vaccination shots to demonstrate its safety and effectiveness to members of Chicago’s Black and Latino communities.

After the vaccinations were administered with the jab of a needle, Mayor Lori Lightfoot celebrated what she called “history in the making.”

“We have entered the beginning of the end,” Lightfoot said.

Those who got the vaccine first on Tuesday morning were: Dr. Marina Del Rios, of the University of Illinois Health System; Elizabeth Zimnie, an emergency room nurse at Norwegian American Hospital; Barbara Shields Johnson, a nurse at The Loretto Hospital; Jermilla Hill, a patient care technician at The Loretto Hospital; and Mark Hooks, an emergency room nurse at The Loretto Hospital.

However, Lightfoot acknowledged that city health officials will have to convince skeptical Black and Latino Chicagoans to get vaccinated. Polls show Black people are more skeptical about the safety and efficacy of the vaccine, in part because of the legacy of inhumane medical experiments such as the Tuskegee Syphilis Study that exploited Black people.

Lightfoot vowed to “conquer that trust deficit” by being transparent and ensuring that trusted local organizations are part of the vaccination effort.

“I got goose bumps watching it happen,” Lightfoot said of witnessing the first vaccinations. “I was like a kid on Christmas morning.”

COVID-19 has hit Austin, on the West Side, harder than nearly any other Chicago neighborhood, according to data compiled by the Chicago Department of Public Health. In addition to high infection rates, deaths in Austin outpaced deaths citywide by 62%, in part because of long standing inequity in health care treatment and outcomes in Chicago’s Black communities.

Officials with the Chicago Department of Public Health are expecting the first vaccine shipment to Chicago to include 23,000 doses. Weekly shipments of vaccine are expected to follow, said Dr. Allison Arwady, the commissioner of the department.

A 17-member independent working group evaluated the federal data about the safety of the vaccine and confirmed its accuracy, Arwady said.

“No steps of the safety process have been skipped,” Arwady said.

The first doses of the vaccine are reserved for health care workers under federal guidelines. All 34 Chicago hospitals will get doses of the vaccine to distribute, officials said.

Each vaccine will require two doses to be fully effective, officials said.

It will take months for there to be enough vaccine for it to be widely distributed to all Chicagoans, Lightfoot warned.

Despite Tuesday’s celebration, Lightfoot warned that COVID-19 remains a dire threat to Chicagoans.

“There is a light at the end of the tunnel, but we are still in the tunnel,” Lightfoot said.

Chicagoans must cancel holiday celebrations, wear a mask, stay away from strangers and wash their hands, Lightfoot said.

Video: Amanda Vinicky speaks with Mark Hooks, an emergency room nurse at The Loretto Hospital who was among the first people in Illinois to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

After Chicago’s 400,000 health care workers get two doses of a vaccine, residents and staff of Chicago’s 128 long-term care facilities will be next in line under the plan set by federal authorities, perhaps as soon as two to three weeks, officials said.

That prioritization will ensure that Black Chicagoans, who are at highest risk of contracting COVID-19 and suffering serious symptoms, are among the first to get the vaccine, Arwady said.

In Chicago’s 78 skilled nursing facilities, 49% of residents are Black and 58% of staff is Black, Arwady said.

Once enough vaccine doses are available, the city plans to open mass vaccination clinics at City Colleges as well as mobile clinics for health care workers, officials said.

Essential workers are expected to be vaccinated in the next phase of the plan, which have yet to be approved by federal officials.

City officials will track the race and ethnicity of those who get the vaccine to ensure that Black and Latino Chicagoans who are most at risk of getting seriously ill and dying from COVID-19 are vaccinated, Lightfoot said.

Approximately 10% of those who got the vaccine during trials experienced fatigue and muscle aches for one to two days, with high fevers occurring occasionally, officials said.

Those symptoms are not serious, and indicate that the vaccine is working to trigger an immune response to COVID-19, officials said.

Those who get the vaccine can sign up for an app to track their response to the vaccine, Arwady said.

Contact Heather Cherone: @HeatherCherone | (773) 569-1863 |