CHICAGO — More than 54,000 Chicagoans have been vaccinated against coronavirus — and some of the city’s most at-risk people could soon get vaccines.
The city is working to quickly ramp up its vaccination campaign. The Chicago Department of Public Health is opening two mass vaccination sites for health care workers this week and is working to expand the number of people who can provide vaccinations, said Dr. Allison Arwady, head of the Chicago Department of Public Health.
Arwady laid out the city’s vaccination work during a Tuesday news conference.
In Chicago, 54,207 residents have received a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and 13,826 of those people have gotten a second dose, according to city data.
But Arwady said about 40 percent of doses are going to people who work but don’t live in Chicago, meaning their data isn’t shown in the city’s online database. That would mean about 113,388 doses of vaccine have actually been administered through the city.
Right now, the city is focused on vaccinating health care workers and people living in working in long-term care facilities as part of Phase 1A. That phase will likely take several more weeks, Arwady said.
The city is trying to speed the campaign by opening two mass vaccination sites for outpatient health care workers this week. They’ll be appointment-only and will be at city colleges campuses, though Arwady did not say which ones. The city already has a mass vaccination site for health care workers at Malcolm X College.
The health department will also expand the hours those sites are operating so there are more appointments available, Arwady said.
Dr. Ali Khan, executive medical director for Oak Street Health, said the senior-focused chain of health centers has started vaccinating health care workers with doses provided by the city — and it’s shown him how high the demand is.
Within 48 hours of opening appointments, more than 2,600 workers from across the city had signed up to be vaccinated, Khan said.
“… We are nowhere close to being done with vaccinating [Phase] 1A,” Khan said at the news conference. “… There are tens if not hundreds of thousands of people who are frontline workers who have yet to be vaccinated.”
Arwady said Chicago needs more vaccine doses from the federal government to meet that demand, as it’s only receiving about 32,000 per week. The city has about 3,300 vaccination appointments per day, and it’s increasing that to more than 4,000 per day by next week, Arwady said.
The Chicago Department of Public Health has not said how many total doses of vaccine have been distributed to the city by the federal government. But Arwady said the city is currently holding back some doses to ensure people can get a second dose.
“I do think that it’s been heard that we would like to have more vaccine available here quickly,” Arwady said.
Arwady said the city also “very much” needs vaccination funding that’s yet to be released but has been promised by the federal government to speed up its campaign.
Despite the low supply of doses, the city is finishing Phase 1A and is planning 1B, when Chicagoans 65 and older and frontline essential workers can be vaccinated, Arwady said. People from Phase 1B will begin being vaccinated even during this phase, she said, and health care workers who wait to get vaccinated now can still be vaccinated in the future.
“I’m excited by the possibility of being able to expand soon once we’re able to make sure … outpatient workers [have] had the opportunity to make their appointments,” Arwady said.
In the meantime, Arwady said health providers are encouraged to use vaccines that might go unused on their highest-risk patients rather than let the doses go bad. She said the city’s top priority is ensuring doses aren’t spoiled here like they have been in other places.
“There’s a lot of work to make sure no doses are being wasted,” Arwady said.
Phase 1B is expected to take a long time, as there are 360,000 Chicagoans who are 65 or older and hundreds of thousands of essential workers who fall into the category, Arwady said. Vaccinations will still be done on a by-appointment system during that phase, she said.
The city’s signed up 250 vaccine care providers — like pharmacies and outpatient clinics — that will vaccinate people during 1B and future phrases. Officials are working on bringing in grocery chains with pharmacies like Jewel-Osco so people can also get vaccinated there, Arwady said.
More than 90 percent of the vaccine doses given to the city will end up being given to people through partners like that rather than through city-run vaccination sites, Arwady said.
The health department is also working with nursing, medical and pharmacy schools so students there can eventually vaccinate people under appropriate supervision, Arwady said.
The campaign is expected to take much of 2021 — but Mayor Lori Lightfoot has warned it could take a year and a half unless the federal government provides Chicago with more vaccine doses.
While people are being vaccinated, everyone — including those who have gotten the shots — should still keep wearing masks and social distancing, Arwady said.
“I’m not backing off in terms of all these other mitigation strategies because with the amount of COVID we are still seeing in Chicago” and because a low percentage of people have been vaccinated, Arwady said. “Bottom line is the way you can protect Chicago: First, get educated so you feel confident taking the COVID vaccine when it is your turn.
“But second, do not let up on these things that have gotten us this far.”
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