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City Defends Not Vaccinating People With Underlying Conditions Yet: We ‘Don’t Have Anywhere Near Enough Vaccine’

The state announced Wednesday it will start vaccinating people with underlying conditions or disabilities come Feb. 25, but Chicago and Cook County won't follow suit. "If we add additional people ... all we do is make it harder for the people already eligible to get that vaccine."

At Esperanza Health Center, 4700 S. California Avenue in Chicago, medical assistant Hilda Lopez, left, gets the new Moderna COVID-19 vaccine from medical assistant Isabel Camacho on Monday, Dec. 28, 2020. The city of Chicago is pushing the vaccine out to long-term medical care facilities and outpatient clinics. (Terrence Antonio James/Chicago Tribune/ pool)
Chicago Tribune/Pool
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CHICAGO — The city and county are defending their decision not to add people with underlying conditions to Phase 1B of their coronavirus vaccination plans, with officials saying they simply don’t have enough doses.

The state announced Wednesday it will start vaccinating people with underlying conditions or disabilities come Feb. 25, moving those people up from Phase 1C to 1B. Local health departments can start those vaccinations even earlier if they’ve already substantially completed vaccinating other eligible people.

But Chicago and Cook County won’t follow suit, officials said Wednesday. That’d mean people with underlying conditions will remain in 1C, which is expected to begin at the end of March.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot doubled down on that plan in a statement Thursday morning with Toni Preckwinkle, president of the Cook County Board.

“Our goal is to get as many people vaccinated as quickly and efficiently as possible,” the two said in a statement. “That said, our greatest challenge in doing so is the very limited supply of vaccine we are receiving. While we are making progress every day with vaccinating people in 1A and 1B, at this time we are not being supplied with enough doses that would allow us to expand eligibility in these phases.

“Doing so in Chicago and Cook County would add well over one million additional people to 1B, and the result would be that those currently eligible, including seniors, frontline essential workers and those in our most heavily COVID-burdened communities, would have an even harder time getting a vaccine.”

Lightfoot and Dr. Allison Arwady, head of the Chicago Department of Public Health, have repeatedly said the city is not getting enough vaccine doses, slowing its campaign.

Chicago only receives about 6,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses per day — and more than 360,000 Chicagoans who are 65 or older and more than 350,000 frontline workers are eligible to be vaccinated during Phase 1B. There are also tens of thousands of health care workers left over from Phase 1A who need to be vaccinated.

The city’s struggled to get people already eligible in 1B vaccinated with the low amount of vaccine doses being sent here by the federal government. The city has distributed 99 percent of its doses to providers, and 88 percent are administered to patients and reported in within a week, Arwady said.

But just one in six Chicagoans 65 or older have gotten their first vaccination shot, Arwady said Tuesday. Chicago has administered more than 280,000 vaccine doses so far.

And the city estimates 900,000 Chicagoans fall into its 1C category. Making them eligible would mean the city’s vaccine supply would be spread even thinner, further slowing down the effort to vaccinate older people, Arwady said Wednesday.

“Of course I would like more people to be able to be vaccinated,” Arwady said at a news conference. “Here in Chicago, if we add additional people right now to 1B, all we do is make it harder for the people already eligible to get that vaccine.”

Arwady has previously been pressured to add more groups of people, like librarians and restaurant workers, to Phase 1B. She has refused to, saying it would slow down the city’s effort to vaccinate older people.

“I want to be really careful about not opening up the number of people eligible for vaccine when I don’t have anywhere near enough vaccine,” she said Wednesday.

The state said it was adding people to Phase 1B because it’s getting an increased supply of vaccine doses from the federal government.

But Arwady said she doesn’t expect to see a significant bump in doses until late February or, more likely, early March. She’d like to see the city’s allotment of doses doubled, tripled or even quadrupled, she said.

If the state has gotten assurance it will be provided with significantly more vaccine doses, officials could direct that to Chicago and it’d be “very helpful,” Arwady said.

Arwady’s previously said the city is talking to state and county leaders to see if they’ll give a portion of their doses to Chicago since the city is vaccinating so many non-residents and because the city is an “employment center” where many non-residents come to work. Officials are trying anything they can to bring more doses to Chicago, she’s said.

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