CHICAGO — It could take Chicago a year and a half to vaccinate people against coronavirus — unless the federal government starts providing more doses, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Tuesday.
While other cities and states have seen slow starts to their vaccination campaigns, Lightfoot said Chicago has already distributed 95 percent of the vaccine doses allocated to the city by the federal government.
More than 36,000 Chicago residents have been vaccinated so far, and officials said 42 percent of doses administered in Chicago have been given to non-residents who work here. That would mean the city’s administered about 62,000 vaccine doses.
Lightfoot and Dr. Allison Arwady, head of the Chicago Department of Public Health, said Chicago needs — and can handle — more.
“But the challenge is this: We do not have enough vaccine,” Lightfoot said during a Tuesday morning news conference. Aiming her message at the outgoing Trump and incoming Biden administrations, Lightfoot said, “If you want to have us bend this curve and give people confidence that they can resume their normal lives, there must be an exponential increase in the amount of vaccine that is available to cities and towns all over this country.
“At the current rate we are going, it would take us a year and almost a year and a half to vaccinate all of Chicago. That is way too long and, frankly, unacceptable.”
The Chicago Department of Public Health gets supplies of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines from the federal government, separate from the rest of Illinois. Alyse Kittner, health department spokeswoman, said the city’s received more than 61,425 doses of the Pfizer vaccine and 63,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine so far.
But the national campaign has been troubled since its mid-December start. The same week vaccinations started in the United States, Gov. JB Pritzker said Illinois and Chicago were only going to be provided half of the doses they’d been told to expect from the federal government.
The federal government aimed to provide 20 million doses of coronavirus vaccine to states and major cities by the end of 2020. It fell far short of that goal, distributing just 14 million doses.
Some states and cities have struggled to handle even the reduced supplies, and by the end of 2020 just 3 million vaccine doses had been administered in the United States.
But officials in Chicago said they’ve kept up with the demand and want more doses so they can protect people.
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“We are overwhelmed right now in terms of people looking for vaccine — which makes me happy,” Arwady said during a Tuesday livestream.
Chicago started vaccinating health care workers in hospitals Dec. 15. Vaccinations have now expanded to outpatient health care workers and people living and working in long-term care facilities.
The city opened its first mass vaccination site for outpatient health care workers last week. Appointments fill up as soon as the city creates them, Arwady said.
The city can store more than 130,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine, which requires specialty ultra-cold storage. Some city hospitals also have their own storage for that vaccine.
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But Chicago’s getting just 16,575 doses of the Pfizer vaccine this week, Arwady said. The city will also get 16,200 doses of the Moderna vaccine this week, with most of those going to long-term care facilities since it doesn’t require ultra-cold storage.
While demand is high and people are signing up to be vaccinated, the city is “not anywhere close to done” with Phase 1A, which covers health care workers and long-term care facilities, Arwady said.
Phase 1B — when older Chicagoans and certain frontline workers will be vaccinated — likely won’t begin until next month at the earliest, Arwady said. It’ll be months before the vaccine is more widely available, she’s said.
“I don’t expect us to be in Phase 2 until the summer, at this rate,” Arwady said. “We are hoping that [vaccine] production increases, really, at the federal level.”
Lightfoot said the federal government must “absolutely” step up and work with pharmaceutical companies to ensure there’s more production of vaccines “so that we can bring hope to our residents in Chicago and all across this country.”
The city has created the infrastructure to deliver vaccine doses, Lightfoot said — now it just needs the doses.
“Lives are at stake,” she said.
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