Illinois sets single-day vaccination record as worry over variants grows
Illinois vaccine providers administered 154,201 shots Wednesday, more than on any other day since the COVID-19 immunization process began nearly four months ago.
The previous single-day record was 152,388 on March 12, state health officials reported.
Of those new doses put into the arms of Illinois residents and workers Wednesday, almost half -- 77,003 -- fully immunized those individuals. That's also a record, according to state figures.
At the same time, Illinois Department of Public Health officials reported 34 more COVID-19 deaths and 3,739 new cases. That brings the state's death toll from the outbreak to 21,457, with 1,269,196 residents who have been infected.
The state is averaging more than 3,000 new cases a day over the past week, a rate unseen since early February. Health officials are blaming the increased presence of the U.K. variant for the uptick in new cases.
"The danger of the new variants spreading means we want every dose to get into arms as soon as humanly possible," Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Thursday at an event in Forest Park. "It's important that we begin to address the whole population."
State health officials are offering 150,000 additional first-dose appointments at 11 state-supported mass vaccination sites in the suburbs and Chicago beginning Monday, when vaccine eligibility opens to anyone 16 and older.
Pritzker announced the Chicago region will receive the additional doses because of the high demand and large population. Eligible residents are urged to register for appointments at county health department websites.
The more contagious U.K. variant of COVID-19 is now the predominant strain of the virus in the country, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Wednesday. Illinois has reported only 552 cases of that variant as of Thursday, according to state records.
IDPH is also reporting that 93 cases of the Brazilian variant, 50 cases of a California variant and nine cases of a South African strain have been found in Illinois.
IDPH's variant surveillance program is voluntary and agency officials did not reveal how many testing locations are participating.
Hospitals and commercial labs performing COVID-19 tests are being asked to "enroll and participate" in the program by sending 10 randomly chosen positive samples to IDPH each week.
IDPH officials said all labs conducting PCR tests should submit not only the 10 random positive tests but all of the following:
• Any positive samples from patients who have been fully vaccinated for 14 days.
• Positive samples from those who may have been reinfected and had positive test results at least 90 days apart.
• Specimens from cases involved in outbreaks or linked to a variant case.
• Specimens from patients presenting with "atypical" symptoms.
Variant tracking in the U.S. has been limited even though epidemiologists had warned of the virus' potential to mutate. Even the CDC is reporting just 16,725 known cases of the U.K. variant in the U.S. Of those cases, Florida reported the most with 3,192.
In an article published at nature.com, renowned biologist and journalist Amy Maxmen wrote that bureaucracy and limited funding is preventing scientists from being able to properly surveil variants in the U.S.
Her research indicates the U.S. "lags behind at least 30 countries in terms of the sequencing it has done throughout the pandemic."
Maxmen spoke with University of California, Berkeley epidemiologist Art Reingold, who said the country's private and fractured health care system is a "nightmare" for this type of research because hospitals, diagnostic labs, local health departments and private sequencing centers rarely work together.
"We know viruses mutate all the time," IDPH Director Ngozi Ezike said at the Forest Park event. "People susceptible to infection, that's what a virus needs to mutate."
Ezike urged residents to get vaccinated as soon as doses are offered to prevent them from becoming hosts to future mutations. She added that the state is seeing a "resurgence" of the virus in recent weeks but vaccinations are helping keep many more from getting sick.
"The overwhelming majority of hospitalizations are not vaccinated," she said.
Of the more than 2.5 million Illinois residents fully vaccinated, only 72 have been admitted for COVID-19 infections, Ezike said.
However, hospital officials where some of those vaccinated patients have been treated said many suffered from compromised immune systems and the vaccine is not as effective in immuno-suppressed patients because of other drug treatments those patients are receiving.
"That made them less likely to respond to the vaccine," said Dr. Jonathan Pinsky, medical director of infection control and prevention at Edward Hospital in Naperville, said earlier this week during a discussion about the increase in hospitalizations.
More than 73% of Illinois residents 65 and older have received at least one dose of the vaccine, health officials noted Thursday. Additionally, 42% of Illinois residents 16 and older have received at least one shot.
Hospitals statewide are treating 1,798 COVID-19 patients, 351 of whom are in intensive care, according to IDPH figures.