Chicago's top health official said the first vaccinations against the coronavirus on Tuesday marked "the beginning of what will be the end of COVID-19" in the city, but cautioned the public that it will still be quite some time before the pandemic is over.
Five health care workers were the first people in Chicago to be vaccinated on Tuesday at Loretto Hospital on the city's West Side in a moment the mayor called "history in the making."
Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady celebrated the advance in battling the pandemic that has now claimed more than 300,000 lives nationwide - but noted that she believed it would probably be about another year before the coronavirus is "in the rearview mirror."
"There is nothing I wanted more for Christmas than a vaccine that looked like this," Arwady said. She then highlighted the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's evaluation process for the first vaccine from Pfizer, approved for emergency use last week, and noted that she felt "very confident in knowing that no steps for the safety process for approving a vaccine have been skipped."
Both Arwady and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot praised the arrival of the vaccine in the city the day before, though Lightfoot noted that "widespread community distribution of the vaccine is still months away."
Arwady said the city expected to receive 23,400 doses of the vaccine this week and anticipated additional doses to be arriving over the next few days and continuing in the coming weeks. She also noted that the FDA was slated to review Moderna's vaccine in a few days, saying that she hoped approval of the second vaccine was less than a week away.
When it comes to who will get the vaccine first, Chicago and Illinois health officials have long said they would follow federal public health guidelines to first vaccinate health care workers on the frontlines of fighting the pandemic. The city has said there are roughly 400,000 health care workers in the city, including doctors, nurses and other hospital staff.
"We will shortly, just within the next couple of weeks, be expanding to long-term care facilities, both staff and residents there," Arwady said. "Then we're expecting by approximately the end of year late December, early January to start also moving into the space of outpatient health care providers."
After frontline health care workers and residents and staff of long-term care facilities, the city says priority will be given to workers in essential and critical industries including emergency services personnel, people at high risk for severe COVID-19 illness due to underlying medical conditions and people ages 65 and older.
"But it is going to be a number of months before a vaccine is widely available," Arwady noted, adding, "You will see that each of these people who got vaccinated did not take their mask off and they will not take their mask off because first, everybody needs a second dose of the vaccine coming in three weeks and even after that, there is a lot that we will be continuing to learn about the vaccine."
"We're going to be wearing our masks, doing our social distancing for months now as we continue to roll out this vaccine. But this is, I fully believe, the beginning of what will be the end of COVID-19 here in Chicago." Arwady continued.
"We've already been at this for nearly a year and I think we're going to be at it for probably another year by the time we really get to the point where this is in the rearview mirror," she added. "But it is within our power to keep this virus in control. You know the things that work - please continue to do them."
Lightfoot expressed a similar sentiment in her remarks on the first vaccinations.
"While we can see light at the end of the tunnel, we are still in the tunnel," Lightfoot said. "We still have places in our city where this terrible virus is ravaging the body, mind and spirit of so many."
"We will be here unfortunately for months to come," Lightfoot continued. "We cannot let our guard down. We must remain diligent and responsible about the things we know protect us. Wearing masks saves lives."
The first shipment of Pfizer's vaccine arrived in Illinois on Monday, according to Gov. J.B. Pritzker, containing 43,000 doses that are now being processed to go to hospitals across the state.
Chicago was one of five local health departments to receive direct shipments independent of the state. The four others include: Cook County Department of Public Health, Lake County Health Department and Community Health Center, Madison County Health Department, and St. Clair County Health Department.
Together, the six shipments account for the state's "expected allocation" of 100,000 doses, Pritzker's office said. Officials previously estimated the state would receive 109,000 doses, with Chicago receiving 23,000 and 86,000 distributed around the rest of the state.
The first vaccinations done under the state's jurisdiction, with Pritzker and Illinois Department of Public Health officials monitoring, were conducted at 11 a.m. on Tuesday to health care workers at OSF St. Francis Medical Center in Peoria.
The Pfizer vaccine requires two shots given three weeks apart.
Earlier this month, Pritzker and Illinois health officials detailed the state's vaccination plan, noting it follows federal guidelines in distributing it to health care professionals and nursing home residents first in accordance with federal public health guidance.
“The very first vaccinations will be dedicated to hospitals and health care workers in the 50 counties with the highest death rates per capita,” Pritzker said on Dec. 4 during his daily COVID-19 briefing in Chicago. “Some quick math will tell you that it’s going to take multiple weeks of distribution to even get our health care workers their first of the two doses that they require, while also getting to the long-term care facility residents.”
According to Pritzker, each county has put together its own plan for how the vaccine will be distributed, with the governor pointing out that cities like Chicago and more rural communities will have different strategies in place to ensure that the vaccine is distributed as equitably as possible.
Illinois' public health director said Friday all of the state's 10 "regional hub" hospitals will receive doses of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine to distribute in week one.
Once the doses begin to come in, IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike says that the state will pull out all the stops in an “All-In Illinois” effort to make sure that the vaccine is administered as quickly and efficiently as possible.
“People will go to their doctor’s offices. Mass vaccination drives will be held. Some in churches, pharmacies, local health departments,” she said. “There will be myriad opportunities to get the vaccine. We want some drive-thru vaccination efforts too. Those will continue to ramp up as it becomes widely available to the public.”