Local hospitals ready 'to do whatever we can' as vaccine hubs

  • A phlebotomist prepares a test sample to be shipped off at a COVID-19 drive-through testing site at Arlington Park.

      A phlebotomist prepares a test sample to be shipped off at a COVID-19 drive-through testing site at Arlington Park. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

Updated 12/7/2020 8:13 PM

Workers at several suburban hospitals are rolling up their sleeves in anticipation of the arrival of Pfizer Inc. COVID-19 vaccines -- possibly this week -- which will then be dispersed around the region to vaccinate health care workers.

Ten hospitals in the suburbs and elsewhere in Illinois are designated as receiver hubs for the COVID-19 vaccine.


The 10 hospitals were "identified prior to the pandemic as regional health centers that work with the Illinois Department of Public Health," Gov. J.B. Pritzker said at a Monday briefing. Chicago will handle vaccines separately.

Northshore-Highland Park Hospital is one of those locations and has high-tech freezers ready for the Pfizer vaccine that requires storage at minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit.

The hospital is "anxiously waiting," NorthShore University Health System Vice President of Pharmacy Jeff Thiel said.

If the U.S. Food and Drug Administration rules in favor of the Pfizer vaccine, 109,000 initial doses will come to Illinois, with 23,000 allocated to Chicago and 86,000 to the rest of the state.

With many moving parts, "there is no perfect plan," IDPH Director Ngozi Ezike said, noting the agency is working with stakeholders to resolve logistics.

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As an example, NorthShore is expected to receive and safely store 27,300 doses that will be shared with other hospitals in the region. How the vaccine is divided will be up to the IDPH and public health departments in Cook and Lake counties, Thiel said.

Once allocations are decided, those doses will be transported to the recipient hospitals.

And that's just the beginning. "We are likely to see hundreds of thousands of vaccine doses coming to Illinois in December," Pritzker said.

Another hub hospital is Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood, which is expecting 16,575 doses. Chief Clinical Officer Richard Freeman said the hospital is "still waiting on final details" and "that's not unusual. It's something we haven't done ... any of it. There are going to be things that are last minute. But we're prepared and willing to work with the state and the federal government to do whatever we can to make this work," he said.

Other hospital hubs are Advocate Sherman Hospital in Elgin, Advocate Christ Hospital and Medical Center in Oak Lawn, Rockford Memorial Hospital, OSF St. Francis Medical Center in Peoria, St. John's Hospital in Springfield, Memorial Hospital in Belleville, SIH Memorial Hospital of Carbondale and Carle Foundation Hospital in Urbana.


Meanwhile, new COVID-19 infections are inching up in the aftermath of Thanksgiving, data trends showed.

The Illinois Department of Public Health reported 8,691 additional COVID-19 cases Monday with 90 more people dying from the respiratory disease.

But weekly tallies shows new virus infections Dec. 1 through Monday averaged 9,994 a day, a 13.4% increase compared to 8,812 cases from Nov. 24 through Nov. 30. Medical experts have warned of a possible virus spike related to Thanksgiving celebrations.

The number of patients in Illinois hospitals with COVID-19 came to 5,190 as of Sunday night. "Three out of four of our staffed hospital beds are currently in use," Pritzker said. "That's not the kind of statistic anyone wants to hang their hat on."

Pritzker also announced LaSalle Veterans' Home Administrator Angela Mehlbrech had been fired after 32 residents had died of COVID-19, and 39 of 96 residents and 21 staff members had tested positive. "The independent investigation into the actions of leadership and staff will continue," Pritzker said, adding the state is working with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to ensure all veterans' homes meet health standards.

The FDA could approve Pfizer's vaccine as soon as Thursday, meaning inoculations could begin within days for health care workers in Illinois and across the U.S. Medical workers and residents in long-term care facilities will be the first to be vaccinated under federal guidelines.

NorthShore is prioritizing front-line workers who deal directly with COVID-19 patients to receive the first doses, Thiel said.

"There's general optimism, obviously, that this is going to help eventually resolve the pandemic but there are obviously questions about the vaccine itself, and people are looking for all the data that comes along with the approval," Thiel said.

The FDA is also expected to rule on a vaccine manufactured by Moderna Inc. the third week of December.

At Loyola University Medical Center, experts are troubleshooting.

"Giving the vaccine is straightforward, it's just giving an injection," said Freeman, a doctor.

But both Pfizer and Moderna's vaccines require two doses, weeks apart. "The effort is around making sure we can store it and making sure we can track it," Freeman said. "Because if you get either vaccine, we have to know which one you got, when -- and then be able to give you a second dose. The timing for the second dose is different for each vaccine."

Freeman also noted a survey of staff showed about 70% would take the vaccine. "We are not going to mandate it for our staff but 70% is a pretty high number," he said.

Statewide, average daily hospitalizations for COVID-19 in the last seven days were at 5,484 patients compared to 5,944 between Nov. 24 and Nov. 30.

The state's virus test positivity rate based on a seven-day average is 10.3%. Virus tests processed in the last 24 hours were at 77,569.

Total COVID-19 infections statewide stand at 796,264 with 13,343 deaths since the pandemic began. The majority of deaths are people aged 60 and older but a Kane County woman in her 20s also died, the IDPH reported Monday.

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