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Chicago, Illinois Mark One Year Since First COVID Vaccine Doses Administered

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NOTE: NBC Chicago will host a live feed of the Chicago health department's press conference beginning at 11:30 a.m. Watch live in the player above.

Wednesday marked one year since the first Chicagoans and Illinoisans received their first doses of the coronavirus vaccine.

It was a scene many remember vividly.

In Chicago, five health care workers sat in a room at Loretto Hospital, receiving the highly-anticipated vaccine in the midst of a pandemic surge just before the Christmas holiday. In Peoria, health care workers received their first doses of the Pfizer vaccine as frontline workers took center stage in the vaccine rollout.

Images of trucks loaded with freezer packs of the COVID-19 vaccine flooded television screens as doses were distributed to hospitals across the country.

 “A year ago, I remember feeling fortunate to be one of the first in the state to receive the COVID-19 vaccine and I was thankful and appreciative of all the work that went into developing it,” OSF HealthCare Saint Francis Emergency Services Medical Director Dr. Victor Chan said in a statement. “The last year has been challenging for everyone and even now, marking the one-year anniversary of having the vaccine available, it’s still a reminder that we can’t let our guard down.”

Since Dec. 15, 2020, Chicago has administered nearly 4 million doses of the vaccine to residents, with just under 70% of residents receiving at least one dose of the vaccine so far. Across the state, 71% of residents have received at least one dose, 63% are fully vaccinated, and more than 30% have received a booster dose, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Meanwhile, about 200 million Americans are fully vaccinated, or just over 60% of the population. That is well short of what scientists say is needed to keep the virus in check.

Vaccine eligibility has changed drastically since the first doses began last year, expanding now to children as young as 5 and growing to include booster doses for those as young as 16.

“We have come a long way from the first doses of COVID-19 vaccine administered a year ago today, and we must continue our fight against this pandemic,” Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said in a release. “Since that first day, we’ve seen one COVID-19 vaccine fully approved, the age for those eligible to receive a vaccine expanded to everyone 5 years and older, and booster doses for everyone 16 years and older. I urge anyone who is hesitant about the COVID-19 vaccine to look at the successful history of these safe and effective vaccines.”

But while some things are changing, the pandemic still rages on.

Chicago and Illinois are battling yet another uptick in cases and the emergence of a new variant, while officials continue their push to get residents vaccinated, or now, boosted.

In the Midwest and across the U.S. cases and hospitalizations are on the rise again in a spike driven by the highly contagious delta variant, which arrived in the first half of 2021 and now accounts for practically all infections. Now the omicron variant is gaining a foothold in the country, though scientists are not sure how dangerous it is.

"We have a large burden of COVID patients in our hospitals throughout Illinois and Wisconsin," Dr. Robert Citronberg, medical director of infectious disease and prevention at Advocate Aurora Health.

The vaccine anniversary comes at the same time as a tragic milestone is reached in the U.S.

When the vaccine was first rolled out, the country’s death toll stood at about 300,000. It hit 600,000 in mid-June and 700,000 on Oct. 1. Then on Tuesday, the U.S. death toll from COVID-19 topped 800,000.

“Almost all the people dying are now dying preventable deaths,” said Dr. Chris Beyrer, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “And that’s because they’re not immunized. And you know that, God, it’s a terrible tragedy.”

With the rising metrics, officials say the same vaccine that began one year ago could also soon be key to doing certain activities in Chicago.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot said this week that city officials are considering a variety of strategies and potential mitigations to help curb the spread of the virus and Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said earlier this month that proof of vaccination for certain activities and public places could be on the horizon.

“Might we begin requiring proof of vaccination for more activities and public spaces? Yes, I think we might,” Arwady said. “I certainly am more interested in that than I am in needing to do some of the major shutdowns.”

Lightfoot, speaking to media on Monday, said that the city hasn’t “landed on one particular” strategy to slow down the spread of the virus, but that a variety of options are on the table.

Lightfoot and other public officials have expressed concern over the rising number of new cases both in the city and in the state of Illinois. Lightfoot says that the city reported nearly 1,000 new cases of COVID on Monday alone, prompting the discussion of potential mitigation strategies.

City sports venues, including the United Center, have instituted vaccine or negative test requirements for ticket-holders, but the idea is also catching on at some other businesses, including restaurants and concert spaces.

Chicago plans to mark the vaccine anniversary Wednesday at a press conference with top public health officials, including Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady, who aims to continue her push to encourage vaccinations.

"There are parts of the city that continue to lag and some demographics we're working on," she said during a Facebook Live Tuesday, adding that "just since Thanksgiving, Infections are three times as likely in unvaccinated Chicagoans."

The anniversary event is slated to take place at 11:30 a.m. at the Greater Lawn Immunizations Clinic, located at 4150 W. 55th St.

NBC Chicago/Associated Press
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