Dr. Lois Clarke, right, with Loretto Hospital, gives the COVID-19 vaccination to Barbara Shields-Johnson, a RN at Loretto at Loretto Hospital in Chicago on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020. Credit: Jose M. Osorio/ Chicago Tribune/Pool

CHICAGO — Some older Chicagoans could start getting their coronavirus vaccinations as early as next week.

Dr. Allison Arwady, head of the Chicago Department of Public Health, said Tuesday the city is encouraging health care providers to use vaccine doses on their most at-risk patients if the doses would otherwise go unused. The city is trying to avoid any doses being wasted.

Those vaccinations could begin as early as next week, Arwady told aldermen during a Wednesday hearing of the City Council’s Committee on Health and Human Relations, according to a report from WTTW’s Heather Cherone.

The city is still in Phase 1A of its vaccination campaign, meaning health care providers are expected to prioritize vaccines for health care workers and people living and working in long-term care facilities.

It’s not until Phase 1B that vaccines will be more widely available to people 65 and older and certain frontline workers. That phase is expected to begin in February or March.

But Arwady said Wednesday the city will recommend providers give extra doses that would otherwise be wasted to older people with underlying conditions that put them at risk of severe cases of COVID-19, according to WTTW.

There’s currently no way for people who fall into Phase 1B or future phases to sign up to be vaccinated.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 mother mitigation strategies because with the amoutn 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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