ILLINOIS — More than 17,000 front-line medical workers in Illinois, many of whom have been at the forefront of treating COVID-19 patients for nine grueling months, received their first doses of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine on Thursday and Friday, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Friday during his daily news conference.
That’s just 2.6 percent of the total front-line health care workers in the state, but more vaccines are expected to be doled out in coming days and weeks, including a COVID-19 shot by Moderna, which an FDA advisory committee recommended for approval for emergency use Thursday. The Moderna vaccine is expected to arrive in Illinois early next week, Pritzker said.
All 654,598 front-line health care workers and 109,227 residents and workers in long-term care facilities will be the first in Illinois to receive the vaccines. With health care workers already receiving their shots, long-term care residents and workers are expected to start getting theirs during the week of Dec. 28, state health officials said.
On Thursday, vaccinations began, with 3,500 medical workers receiving theirs on that first day of distribution. Under the state’s plan, each of the 10 Regional Hospital Coordinating Centers will receive their allotted doses, and from there, local health departments will deliver the vaccines to hospitals in their regions.
Advocate Sherman Hospital in Elgin, one such regional center, received almost 4,800 vaccines on Thursday, which were evenly split between five hospitals. Front-line doctors, nurses and other medical workers at Advocate Sherman were among the first to get their vaccines shortly after 6 a.m. on Thursday. The first doses went to those working in emergency departments, intensive care units and other hospital settings where COVID-19 patients are being treated.
Meanwhile, the Lake County Health Department received its first shipment of 6,000 doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday. It immediately started distributing those to its six hospitals: Vista Medical Center East, Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital, NorthShore Highland Park Hospital, Advocate Condell Medical Center, Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital and the Cancer Treatment Centers of America.
Shortly before 10 a.m. Thursday, NorthShore HealthSystem staff unloaded three boxes of vaccine and supplies from UPS trucks at Glenbrook Hospital. They contained enough to provide 1,950 people an initial dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
Dr. Jeffrey Kopin, the hospital's chief medical officer, called Thursday a momentous day.
"Watching the long line of these front line heroes waiting patiently, and many tearing up with relief when it was their turn to get it, was something none of us will ever forget," Kopin said in a statement. "We will continue with the employee vaccination process today, and although this is just the beginning of hopefully the end, we want to remind everyone to continue social distancing, wearing masks, and avoiding large groups. We have a long way to go.”
Luz Movido was the first staffer at Vista East Medical Center in Waukegan to be vaccinated. She's worked as a registered nurse in the emergency room and intensive care unit at Vista East since the beginning of the pandemic.
After seeing what the virus can do, and the side effects it leaves for those who do recover, Movido said Thursday she was not at all hesitant to receive her shot.
"Just the fact that we are here to get a vaccine, brings hopes," she said. "It's been very hard for the staff members and the families, so hopefully this is the beginning to the end. And we can look forward to normal life and things kind of going back to normal."
Zareena Khan, an anesthesiologist at Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville, said she felt a lot of anticipation prior to getting her vaccine Friday.
“I was very excited about coming here and getting this and getting it all started,” Khan said Friday morning. “I sent a picture of myself getting the vaccine to my husband and kids because unfortunately they are not in health care and my kids are younger, so they won’t be getting it soon enough. But hopefully soon.”
The DuPage County Health Department doled out 12,695 vaccines to its eight hospitals. Of those, 975 went to Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove with Dr. Robert Citronberg, executive medical director for infectious disease and prevention at Advocate Aurora Health, among the first to get his shot.
"I got my vaccination to do what I can to help end the pandemic. But I also got my vaccination to honor the memory of all those who died from this terrible disease. And to pray for all those who are currently afflicted and also to salute our front line health care workers who have worked tirelessly for the last 9.5 months,” he said.
“I’m still going to wear my mask, I'm still going to practice social distancing until we have this pandemic under control, and you should do the same thing,” Citronberg added.
Advocate Christ Hospital in Oak Lawn, the regional hub of the south suburbs, was slated to receive 8,775 doses of the Pfizer vaccine this week.
On Friday, the state saw an additional 181 deaths from coronavirus, surpassing 15,000 total deaths since the start of the pandemic. To date, 886,805 infections have been reported in Illinois.
Pritzker on Friday said he hasn't yet heard why Illinois is only expected to receive half its allotted amount of the vaccine—news he made public on Thursday. Drug manufacturer Pfizer says millions of doses are sitting in its warehouses awaiting instructions from the federal government on where to ship them.
Its unclear, Pritzker said Thursday, why the Trump administration would leave millions of doses sitting in warehouses instead of distributing them across the country.
On Friday, Dr. Ngozi Ezike, the state's public health director, issued a proclamation allowing more health care workers to administer vaccines. She said both advanced and intermediate emergency medical technicians would be among those to administer vaccines.
Shipments of the Moderna vaccine are expected to arrive in Illinois early next week, state officials said. Getting more medical personnel on board to provide vaccines will be important as larger allotments are expected to be delivered in the state in coming weeks and months.
“This is yet another exciting development," Ezike said Friday regarding the Moderna vaccine. "It reinforces and brightens the light at the end of the tunnel for all of us who have been fighting through COVID-19.”