CHICAGO — The city could get its first doses of a coronavirus vaccine by the end of the year, with health care workers first in line.
Still, the vaccine likely won’t be widely available to the general public until months into 2021, Dr. Allison Arwady, head of the Chicago Department of Public Health, said during a Tuesday news conference.
“I think it is likely we may see the first emergency-use FDA authorization in the next few weeks,” Arwady said. “If that happens, I think it’s likely we could have our first COVID-19 vaccine here in Chicago before the end of the year.”
Demand for a vaccine is high internationally, and supply and distribution will be highly limited. Officials will prioritize giving the few doses they get in the beginning to health care workers, particularly those working with COVID-19 patients, Arwady said. She said Chicago has about 150,000 health care workers.
After that, first responders and people living in long-term care facilities — which have seen numerous deadly outbreaks — will get the vaccine.
Only then will the vaccine likely start going out more widely. It’s possible the general public could have access to it in the first quarter of 2021, Arwady said.
“We don’t know [the timeline] for a fact,” she said. “We will only know that when the vaccine trials are appropriately completed, when the FDA has completed its review and then the CDC also looks at the data and there’s an external group of scientists that make recommendations about who should receive this vaccine.”
Children likely won’t get vaccinated for months since more research needs to be done and since they haven’t faced the same risks as older people from COVID-19, Arwady said.
The Department of Public Health has already begun building up how many doses of vaccine it can store at once and working with hospitals so they can distribute the vaccine once it’s more widely available.
The vaccines being trialed will go “through all of the appropriate scientific review” before they’re distributed widely, Arwady said, and she will not OK their use in Chicago without ensuring they’re safe.
But Arwady said even once the general public starts getting vaccinated, people will still need to wear masks and social distance.
“A vaccine is not going to be here” for most people within the next few months, Arwady said.
“… It’s going to be months before we have the amount of vaccine [where] we start talking about vaccinating hundreds of thousands or” 2.7 million Chicagoans, Arwady said. “Throughout most of 2021, even as the vaccine is being rolled out, we are going to need people to keep wearing their masks, to keep social distancing. Even the people who have received the vaccine.”
That’s because researchers still need to study the virus and ensure vaccinated people aren’t still shedding the virus, potentially spreading it to others, Arwady said.
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