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A Coronavirus Vaccine Is Coming. Here’s Everything You Need To Know About Getting One In Chicago

The city expects to receive just 20,000-25,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine the first week it's approved, which could be as early as mid-December.

A Chicagoan receives a free flu vaccine on November 11, 2020.
Chicago Department of Public Health
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CHICAGO — Chicagoans will start getting the coronavirus vaccine this week.

The vaccines will protect people from becoming sick with COVID-19. Officials say they are the best bet yet to have life return to normal — but widespread vaccination and normalcy are still months away because supply of the vaccines is limited.

The city will receive 23,000 doses and the rest of Illinois will get 86,000 doses, which will be delivered this week, said Gov. JB Pritzker.

That means not everyone will be able to get vaccinated at once, and social distancing and wearing masks will continue for at least several months.

What you need to know:

When Will Vaccinations Start?

Chicago’s vaccination campaign is expected to start this week, said Dr. Allison Arwady, head of the Chicago Department of Public Health.

The city has prepared for the campaign for months and is “ready” to start, Arwady said.

Not everyone will be able to get vaccinated at once since there’s far more demand for vaccine doses than there is supply.

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

RELATED: Coronavirus Vaccine Could Come To Chicago By Next Week: Here’s How The City Plans To Distribute It

Who Will Get A Vaccine? When Will You Get A Vaccine?

Officials want everyone to get a vaccine — but that will take time.

Federal agencies are creating guidelines for how cities and states should dole out the vaccines, and Chicago has agreed to follow those guidelines.

The guidelines say the first round of vaccines should go to people who work in hospitals and people living and working in long-term care facilities, where COVID-19 has been particularly deadly.

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.

Who will get vaccinated after the first round will depend on guidance from the federal agencies.

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

People who are less at risk — like people who are younger, don’t have underlying health conditions and aren’t essential workers — will likely need to wait several months before they are vaccinated.

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 because research is ongoing to ensure the vaccines are safe for children and pregnant people, Arwady said.

People who are pregnant should consult with their doctors to determine if they should get vaccinated once a dose is available to them, Pritzker said.

Pritzker also said people who have had severe allergic reactions to vaccines in the past should consult with their doctors, but they can still get the vaccine when it’s their turn if they choose to do so. People who have non-vaccine allergies — like to peanuts and bees — do not need to take special precautions, he said.

The New York Times has a tool that estimates your place in the “vaccine line.”

How Will You Get A Vaccine? Who Will Give Them?

The first six months of the vaccination campaign will likely see the Chicago Department of Public Health playing a significant role, Arwady said.

During this time, the department will control the distribution of vaccine doses to ensure people most at risk are vaccinated. The vaccine will not be widely available.

After that, though, the city will partner with private practices, clinics, pharmacies and other providers to give them doses so more people can get vaccinated, Arwady said.

How Much Will The Vaccine Cost?

Getting the vaccine will be free, officials have said.

The doses of vaccine will be free, but organizations that actually give you the shot could charge for administering the vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

This fee can be covered by insurance or, for people without insurance, it can be reimbursed by the Health Resources and Services Administration’s Provider Relief Fund.

How Does The Vaccine Work?

There are many COVID-19 vaccines in development, and they have slight differences in how they work. But the vaccines are designed to make your body produce antibodies that will protect you from becoming sick from COVID-19 in the future.

The vaccines do not contain COVID-19. They cannot make you sick with COVID-19 or any other kind of illness.

The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines will require two shots about a month apart.

Can A COVID-19 Vaccine Make You Sick?

No. The vaccines cannot give you coronavirus or any other kind of illness.

Some mild side effects — like temporarily having a sore arm or minor fatigue, which are common with other vaccinations — have been reported, Arwady said.

Arwady has emphasized federal, state and local officials would not use a vaccine that has strong negative side effects.

How Often Will You Need To Get Vaccinated?

Officials aren’t yet sure how often people will need to get a COVID-19 vaccine — whether it will be done once or if people will need to get it annually, like their flu shot.

But there is growing optimism it might only need to be done once, Arwady said.

A technician gives instruction as folks line up for free COVID-19 tests at Pritzker College Prep in Chicago’s Hermosa neighborhood on Monday, November 30, 2020.

Do You Need To Get Vaccinated If You Already Had COVID-19?

Yes.

People who have already had COVID-19 do appear to have at least some form of immunity for several months, according to research. But how strong that immunity is and how long it lasts is unknown and can vary greatly. That’s why there have been cases of people being re-infected with COVID-19 — with some second cases so severe the person has died.

That means even people who have had COVID-19 will need to get vaccinated to ensure they have adequate protection, Arwady said.

What Will Life Look Like After Being Vaccinated?

People will still need to wear masks, social distance and take other safety measures after being vaccinated, doctors have said. That’s because while the vaccine will protect you from becoming ill, you might still be able to shed the virus and transmit COVID-19 to other people.

Chicagoans will likely still need to take those safety measures for months into 2021, officials have said.

“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.”

But as more and more people are vaccinated, life will begin to return to normal.

There will once again be opportunities to see people who are more at risk, like the elderly and people with underlying conditions, Arwady said, though she added that will be safest to do only after all people who are part of a visit have been vaccinated.

And state and city restrictions on gathering, shopping and dining and drinking out could be lifted as the vaccine becomes more widespread. Pritzker previously said the state would be able to return to normal once there was a widespread, effective vaccine.

What’s All This About Cold Storage?

The Pfizer vaccine requires ultra-cold storage (90 degrees below zero Fahrenheit), and the Moderna vaccine requires colder storage (4 degrees below zero Fahrenheit) than typical.

The Chicago Department of Public Health has built up its capacity so it can handle more than 130,000 doses in ultra-cold storage at a time. It will hold and distribute vaccine doses for hospitals that don’t have that kind of storage.

The state is also building up its ultra-cold storage, Dr. Ngozi Ezike, head of the Illinois Department of Public Health, said in late November.

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