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State Sending 50,000 Moderna, Pfizer Vaccine Doses To Chicago While Johnson & Johnson Is Paused

"As cases climb across the country, I encourage everyone to get vaccinated as soon as possible," Gov. JB Pritzker said.

Lakeview Pantry client Eustorgia Alcarav receives her first dose of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at the vaccination site next to Wrigley Field on April 5, 2021.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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CHICAGO — The state will send 50,000 doses of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines to Chicago as the city suspends using its Johnson & Johnson doses.

The city and state announced Tuesday morning they’d temporarily halt vaccinating people with Johnson & Johnson doses “out of an abundance of caution.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Federal Drug Administration are investigating if the doses are linked to reports of extremely rare but potentially dangerous blood clots found in a small number of women.

The pause is only expected to last several days, officials have said.

The one-shot vaccine has been administered to 47,000 Chicagoans, Dr. Allison Arwady, head of the Chicago Department of Public Health, said Tuesday.

Officials hoped that, as supply of the doses increased, it would play a significant role in getting residents vaccinated as quickly as possible — especially with cases on the rise in the city.

The city had been using Johnson & Johnson doses at its Chicago State University mass vaccination site, its O’Hare vaccination site, for its homebound vaccination program, for events with employers and unions and for other events.

The Chicago State site will switch to the Pfizer vaccine, and people do not need to cancel their appointments, Arwady said.

But the other programs are suspended for now due to the Johnson & Johnson pause, as the city does not have spare vaccine doses to make up for the gap left by Johnson & Johnson, Arwady said.

“We don’t have vaccine sitting on shelves; we push it all out,” Arwady said. “But I’m really committed, particularly to that Chicago State site, because it’s on the Far South Side, one of the regions where we’re seeing slower vaccination uptake.”

To help make up for the loss of the Johnson & Johnson doses, the state will allocate 50,000 first doses of Pfizer and Moderna to the city over the next week, Gov. JB Pritzker said Tuesday. It will later allocate another 50,000 second doses to the city for the people who get those first shots.

“As cases climb across the country, I encourage everyone to get vaccinated as soon as possible,” Pritzker said in a tweet.

Officials are rushing to vaccinate people as a third surge forms in Chicago and throughout Illinois. New cases, hospitalizations and positivity rates are on the rise, and officials have said they fear a third wave is forming.

Just 21.1 percent — or 549,447 — of all Chicago residents are completely vaccinated. Among Chicagoans 65 and older, who are among the most at risk from COVID-19, only 47.4 percent are completely vaccinated.

Arwady said it’s critically important that people get vaccinated if possible, and reiterated adverse effects to these vaccines are extremely rare.

“We are not aware of any local cases of this in Chicago or in Illinois,” she said.

Cook County Health is also suspending its use of Johnson & Johnson doses for its mass vaccination program in the county’s suburbs, health system CEO Israel Rocha said during a news conference Tuesday.

The pause “will impact our numbers at a manageable scale,” Rocha said, adding county officials are contacting people scheduled to receive the single-dose vaccine to let them know “their appointments will be honored.” The health system is shifting resources to make sure those residents get Pfizer or Moderna shots instead, he said.

Health system leaders had originally planned to release 8,000 Johnson & Johnson doses among the 35,000 appointments they were on track to schedule this week, officials said.

Johnson & Johnson vaccines comprise just more than 5 percent of the of nearly 500,000 total vaccine doses Cook County Health has so far directly administered through its vaccination sites in the county’s suburbs. Officials announced they plan on Wednesday to open the county’s sixth mass vaccination site at a vacant former Target store in south suburban Matteson. Pfizer vaccinations will be administered at the site.

Pritzker last week encouraged Chicago residents who are struggling to find local vaccines to pursue appointments at one of the county’s mass vaccination sites in Des Plaines, River Grove, Forest Park, Tinley Park and South Holland. The county-run sites’ doses are supplied by the state.

Rocha emphasized on Tuesday the county is pausing the Johnson & Johnson shots “out of an abundance of caution,” and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle noted federal regulators have flagged an “extraordinarily small pool” of six blood clot cases among nearly 7 million people vaccinated with Johnson & Johnson nationwide.

“That means one chance in a million that you’ll have a negative response,” Preckwinkle said. “I like those odds.”

Block Club Chicago’s coronavirus coverage is free for all readers. Block Club is an independent, 501(c)(3), journalist-run newsroom.

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