Chicago administered the first doses of Pfizer's coronavirus vaccine to five health care workers on Tuesday in what city officials touted as an "historic" moment at Loretto Hospital on the city's West Side.
Dubbing the day "Vaccine Day" in Chicago, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said "we have finally and at long last officially taken our first steps in our long road toward COVID vaccination."
Chicago's top doctor called it "the beginning of what will be the end of COVID-19 in Chicago."
"There is nothing I wanted more for Christmas than a vaccine that looked like this," Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said after witnessing the first vaccinations.
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."
City officials thanked both the workers who received the vaccine and those who administered it.
"They are forever now part of history in the city of Chicago and I think they recognize how important it is for them and for our city," Lightfoot said.
Lightfoot praised the first vaccinations but noted Tuesday that "widespread community distribution of the vaccine is still months away."
"While we can see light at the end of the tunnel, we are still in the tunnel," Lightfoot said, noting she was quoting an unnamed doctor. "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."
Hospitals in Chicago and across Illinois have been preparing to receive and administer the first doses to health care workers on the front lines of the pandemic after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved emergency use of Pfizer's vaccine last week.
The first shipment of Pfizer's vaccine arrived in Illinois on Monday, with thousands of doses now being processed to go to hospitals across the state, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said.
Also Tuesday, the first doses to be administered outside of Chicago were given in Peoria, with Pritzker and Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike witnessing.
"This is a beginning for the state of Illinois," Pritzker said at the event.
Pritzker's office said the first shipment, delivered to the Illinois Strategic National Stockpile, contained approximately 43,000 doses of the vaccine.
Illinois officials said Chicago received a shipment from the federal government on Monday as well, 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.
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.
"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," Arwady said. "But it is within our power to keep this virus in control. You know the things that work - please continue to do them."