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Coronavirus Vaccinations Could Start In 2 Weeks In Chicago, City’s Top Doctor Says

"I'm very hopeful that by the time we're halfway or in the third quarter of this year, we'll be in a different place," said Dr. Allison Arwady.

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CHICAGO — The city could start vaccinating health care workers as soon as two weeks from now, Chicago’s top doctor said Tuesday.

The city is waiting on the federal government to approve two COVID-19 vaccines — one from Pfizer and one from Moderna — for emergency use. The Pfizer vaccine could be approved after a review next week; once that happens, Chicago can start its vaccination campaign.

“Two weeks from today, we could be talking about vaccination,” Dr. Allison Arwady, head of the Chicago Department of Public Health, said during a Tuesday news conference. “Lot of details to come, but we are ready … .”

In all, the vaccination campaign will last about a year, Arwady said.

Demand for the vaccine is high and Chicago’s supply will be very low to begin with. The city expects to receive just 20,000-25,000 doses of vaccine the first week. Officials said they expect to receive more every week thereafter — but they’re not sure how much more.

Because of that, the city will prioritize giving doses first to health care personnel.

But since there won’t be enough vaccine doses to cover all health care workers at once, even those will be prioritized: Health care workers who are seeing COVID-19 patients or performing duties that put them at the highest risk will be vaccinated first, said Dr. Candice Robinson, who’s leading the city’s vaccination effort.

Supply will continue to grow and more people will be able to get vaccinated as Pfizer gives Chicago more vaccine doses and as other vaccines, like Moderna’s, are approved, though.

Who will get vaccinated after health care workers will depend on guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other federal agencies.

“All of the prioritizations at the high level are set federally and then they are implemented locally,” Arwady said.

But Arwady said she expects that people in long-term care facilities, essential workers, people 65 and older and people with underlying conditions will be prioritized for vaccines after health care workers.

Previously, Arwady has said she doesn’t expect there to be larger amounts of vaccine in Chicago until March, April or May, and children likely won’t be able to get vaccinated until summer at the earliest.

The first six months of the campaign will likely see the Chicago Department of Public Health playing a significant role in the campaign and ensuring those most at risk receive the vaccine. After that, though, Arwady said she hopes there will be wider availability of vaccines in many settings.

Once more vaccine becomes available, the city will partner with private practices, clinics, pharmacies and other providers to give them doses so other people can get vaccinated, Arwady said.

“We want to make vaccine widely available, certainly throughout Chicago,” Arwady said.

The city is just as the beginning of what will be a “long campaign,” Arwady said.

Even those who have had coronavirus will need to get vaccinated, Arwady said. Current vaccines will require two shots about a month apart.

People who are vaccinated will still need to wear masks, practice social distancing and take other safety measures, Arwady said. She’s previously said those guidelines will likely last through much of 2021.

Officials aren’t yet sure how often people will need to get a COVID-19 vaccine, but there is growing optimism it might only need to be done once, Arwady said.

“I’m very hopeful that by the time we’re halfway or in the third quarter of this year, we’ll be in a different place,” Arwady said.

Block Club Chicago’s coronavirus coverage is free for all readers. Block Club is an independent, 501(c)(3), journalist-run newsroom.

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