First doses of COVID-19 vaccine arrive in Illinois. Where will they go next?
The first COVID-19 vaccinations in Illinois are slated to go into the arms of hospital staff members at Peoria's St. Francis Medical Center at 11 a.m. Tuesday.
Other hospital workers throughout the state, including at Edward Hospital in Naperville, are expected to receive their first of the two-dose vaccine later in the day.
Illinois' first 43,000 doses of the vaccine arrived Monday at the state's distribution location. The doses will be delivered to regional centers where they will be picked up by local health departments to begin distribution to hospitals, state officials said.
Cook County, Lake County and Chicago health departments are also receiving shipment of doses, as well as health departments in downstate St. Clair and Madison counties.
Meanwhile, state health officials Monday announced 103 more Illinois residents have died from the respiratory disease, while another 7,214 new cases were diagnosed. That brings the state's death toll to 14,394 since the outbreak began, with 856,118 Illinois residents who have been infected by the virus.
The Illinois Department of Public Health is reporting the state's infection rate is at 8.7%, based on a seven-day average. That number is calculated by dividing the number of new COVID-19 cases diagnosed over seven days by the total tests processed. The statewide rate is at its lowest since Nov. 4, according to IDPH figures.
COVID-19 hospitalizations statewide dropped to 4,951, the first time the number of patients has been below 5,000 since Nov. 9.
IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said she was hopeful the continued decline in cases and hospitalizations meant the state had fared better than expected after Thanksgiving.
"There has not been a significant surge in cases from the previous week, so that is a good sign," she said. "But as we have said from the beginning it takes one or two incubation periods to know." Each incubation period is 14 days.
But the vaccination news took center stage Monday.
Cook County Department of Public Health officials announced 20,000 doses of the vaccine would be shipped over the course of the week to 15 suburban hospitals for inoculation of health care workers and other staff members at those hospitals.
Among the 15 hospitals receiving initial batches are Northwest Community Hospital in Arlington Heights, Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, Alexian Brothers Medical Center in Elk Grove Village, St. Alexius Medical Center in Hoffman Estates and North Shore Glenbrook Hospital, according to Cook County health officials. It's unknown how many doses each hospital will get.
State health officials are recommending hospitals stagger the vaccinations of their staffs to account for any side effects that might cause brief staffing shortages. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports some people might have fever, chills, fatigue, headache and swelling or pain at the injection site.
Dr. Kiran Joshi, a senior medical officer at the Cook County Health Department, said it would take four to five weeks to get through the "hospital-based wave" of vaccinations.
The other prioritized group includes residents and workers at long-term health care facilities. Vaccinations of those individuals are being handled by local pharmacies through a federal program, county health officials said.
"We encourage all health care workers, staff and residents of long-term care facilities to get the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as it is available," Joshi said. "Although the first doses of the vaccine are here, we must all remain vigilant and continue to wear a mask, watch our distance and wash our hands -- whether we have received the vaccine or not."
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted emergency use authorization to the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine over the weekend. Vaccinations began Monday in some states.
In the first phase of vaccinations, unaffiliated health care workers and EMS personnel are considered "1a" priority alongside hospital staffs and long-term care facility workers and residents.
Once those inoculations are complete, the "1b" group includes "essential workers, including first responders, corrections officers, education sector, food and agriculture, utilities and transportation," according to federal guidelines from the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.
After that, the federal panel recommends inoculation of a "1c" group who are considered "high-risk" elderly adults or have underlying medical conditions that place them at greater risk of dying from COVID-19 infections.
Beyond that, the committee has not made any recommendations on how to distribute vaccinations, health officials said.
"A lot more information is still yet to come," Ezike said. "As soon as we have that information, we can share that with the public. In some situations, (health care) providers might be able to make some of those determinations. For some it might be where you use your (work) badge to certify that you're in this critical infrastructure work."
However, both Ezike and county health officials acknowledged it will be months before a vaccine is available for everyone who wants it.
"As more vaccine becomes available, more individuals will become eligible to receive the vaccine," Ezike said. "Until then, let's exercise patience and understand that here may be others who will get the vaccine before you."
Elsewhere, the Better Business Bureau is warning consumers about potential vaccine scams that promise buyers they can skip the lines for a fee or offer vaccines for a price. Health officials reiterated that vaccines are free and there is no one that can move ahead in the eligibility list.