As FDA ponders booster shots, Illinois shows a huge gap in vaccination rates

  • Katherine Triugeros, 16, of Roselle, a student at Lake Park East High School, gets a COVID-19 shot at a vaccine clinic in April. So far, over 54% of Illinoisans are fully vaccinated.

      Katherine Triugeros, 16, of Roselle, a student at Lake Park East High School, gets a COVID-19 shot at a vaccine clinic in April. So far, over 54% of Illinoisans are fully vaccinated. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer, April 2021

Updated 9/19/2021 7:43 AM

As U.S. Food and Drug Administration experts debate offering a third Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine shot to bolster immunity against COVID-19, Illinois presents a steep contrast in inoculation rates against the deadly virus.

Out of 102 counties, DuPage leads with 71% of residents ages 18 to 64 who are fully vaccinated, compared to downstate Alexander with just 17%, the Illinois Department of Public Health reported Thursday.


Alexander County is in Illinois' southernmost public health region, No. 5, where just 2% of ICU hospital beds are available and the COVID-19 positivity rate for tests is 10%. DuPage is in Region 8, which has 25% of ICU beds available and a positivity rate for COVID-19 tests of 4.2%.

Elsewhere in the Chicago area: 68.6% of suburban Cook residents ages 18 to 64 are fully vaccinated, Chicago stands at 64.5%, Lake is at 64%, Kane is at 63%, Will is at 62% and McHenry is at 61%, according to the IDPH.

Third doses of Pfizer's and Moderna's vaccines were approved by the Centers for Disease Control on Aug. 13 for individuals with serious medical conditions that reduce immunity, such as cancer.

Then, on Aug. 18, the Biden administration announced boosters were coming for fully vaccinated adults about eight months after receiving their second dose of Pfizer's or Moderna's shot. The rollout was set for Monday.

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But don't expect to roll up your sleeves yet, experts advised. Both FDA and CDC regulators are required to sign off on Pfizer's plan and multiple logistics must be coordinated, said Dr. Jonathan Pinsky, Edward Hospital's medical director of infection control and prevention.

"If you're anxious about boosters, I think we're going to have answers soon. By next week there should be a lot more clarity," Pinsky said.

On Friday, an FDA advisory committee will meet to discuss Pfizer's application to approve a booster shot for people 16 and older six months after their second dose. The booster helps address waning immunity, Pfizer said, although the FDA noted in a briefing the two-dose regime is still very effective.

Studies by Pfizer indicate the antibodies that fight COVID-19 after a third dose are 3.3 times higher than antibodies produced after a second dose, Pinsky said. It also performs well against the delta variant, he said.


If the FDA does approve a third shot, then a CDC advisory panel next week will consider to "which population those boosters should be given," Pinsky said.

Also of concern for regulators is the overall availability of vaccines. "They want to make sure there's enough vaccine to be given first to the people who have not been vaccinated," Pinsky said.

It's possible boosters could be prioritized as shots initially were, starting with medical workers and nursing home residents.

Moderna has submitted an application for boosters that is pending, and Johnson & Johnson is seeking approval for a booster that "may be available later in the year," Pinsky said.

New cases of COVID-19 totaled 4,349 Thursday in Illinois, with 41 more people dying from the respiratory disease, the state reported.

On Wednesday, 21,568 more COVID-19 shots were administered. The seven-day average is 20,648.

The federal government has delivered 16,877,465 doses of vaccine to Illinois since distribution began in mid-December, and 14,262,916 shots have been administered.

So far, 6,907,082 people have been fully vaccinated or 54.2% of Illinois' 12.7 million population.

Patients in the hospital with COVID-19 came to 2,163 as of Wednesday night.

The state's positivity rate for COVID-19 cases is 4.1% based on a seven-day average.

Total cases statewide stand at 1,586,741, and 24,492 Illinoisans have died since the pandemic began.

Labs processed 115,099 virus tests in the last 24 hours.

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