How DuPage County will distribute limited supply of COVID-19 vaccines

  • The first patient enrolled in Pfizer's COVID-19 coronavirus vaccine clinical trial at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, receives an injection.

    The first patient enrolled in Pfizer's COVID-19 coronavirus vaccine clinical trial at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, receives an injection. University of Maryland School of Medicine via AP

  • An October 2020 photo provided by Pfizer shows part of a "freezer farm," a football field-sized facility for storing finished COVID-19 vaccines, under construction in Kalamazoo, Mich. Pfizer's experimental vaccine requires ultracold storage.

    An October 2020 photo provided by Pfizer shows part of a "freezer farm," a football field-sized facility for storing finished COVID-19 vaccines, under construction in Kalamazoo, Mich. Pfizer's experimental vaccine requires ultracold storage. Jeremy Davidson/Pfizer via AP

 
 
Updated 12/8/2020 8:37 PM

In the state's second-largest county, public health authorities estimate some 58,000 people are first in line for COVID-19 vaccines in the early stages of a mass immunization campaign.

But the DuPage County Health Department expects its initial allotment of Pfizer's vaccine will provide just a fraction of what's needed to deliver doses to high-risk groups.

 

Health officials are preparing for Illinois to receive the first batch of vaccines the week of Dec. 13, once the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authorizes its emergency use.

Health departments are quickly finalizing distribution plans, a monumental undertaking complicated by limited vaccine supplies and Pfizer's ultracold storage requirements.

"Every single week we will have to be making adjustments," DuPage Health Department Executive Director Karen Ayala said in a briefing to county board members Tuesday.

Of the roughly 109,000 initial doses bound for Illinois, 23,000 are allocated to Chicago and 86,000 to the rest of the state. The first doses will ship out to 10 regional hospitals for distribution in 50 counties with the highest death rates per capita.

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Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood is set to receive 16,575 doses for the rollout in an EMS region that contains DuPage. The county has recorded 800 COVID-19 deaths and more than 49,400 cases since the start of the pandemic.

CVS and Walgreens' pharmacies will administer vaccines to long-term care facilities under a contract with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

County health officials will coordinate the transport of the vaccines to local health systems. The Illinois Department of Public Health will determine exactly how much of the state's allotment to dole out to DuPage.

"We anticipate hearing in the next couple of days what the specific allocation for DuPage County is," Ayala said. "However, we know it won't be any more than 16,575."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Officials also know the first allocation won't be enough to cover the estimated 58,000 people who are a top priority for the start of the vaccination program. The estimate includes health care personnel and residents of the county's long-term care facilities.

"We also estimate that it will take probably six to eight weeks based on the amount of the vaccine we have available to work our way through these two integral and highest level of priority groups," Ayala said.

Because of limited supplies, the county is planning to sub-prioritize health care providers who directly care for patients with COVID-19.

"What that looks like is likely emergency room staff, ICU providers, COVID care unit staff and staff working with patients in that environment and really focused on hospital and inpatient care first, and then expanding out as vaccine becomes more available," said Chris Hoff, the director of community health resources at the health department.

Pfizer's vaccine requires two doses, 21 days apart. The county anticipates fully allocating the roughly 16,000 initial doses to 16,000 people, with their second doses provided in the next distribution waves, Ayala said.

"We expect that once vaccine distribution begins, we will be receiving weekly doses," Ayala said.

Another major logistical issue: Pfizer's vaccine has to be stored at minus-94 degrees Fahrenheit. The county expects to receive an order for two ultracold freezers before the end of the year in order to use CARES Act funding for the cost.

In the meantime, the county has lined up partnerships with organizations that could offer access to freezers. Due to concerns around vaccine safety and security, officials declined to identify the partners.

The county also is now solidifying plans for dispensing locations that will use a drive-through model.

But Ayala said it could take months before vaccines are widely available.

"Even for our higher-risk residents, it may be a couple of months," she said, "but we are working to make sure that as soon we get vaccines, we're able to get it into our residents."

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