Who Is Getting The Coronavirus Vaccine First In Illinois?

ILLINOIS — The first Illinois health care workers were vaccinated against the coronavirus Tuesday as drugmaker Pfizer's new vaccine starts to ship across the country. The 95-percent-effective mRNA cocktail was approved for emergency use by the FDA last week and may represent the "beginning of the end of this pandemic," Gov. J.B. Pritzker said.

On a visit to the Peoria site that will serve as a hub for distributing the vaccine across the state, the governor described the mass vaccination effort as the "largest national mission in a generation." Hundreds of thousands of doses are expected to be available to Illinoisans by March, but who will be first in line to get the shots?

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In Illinois, 654,598 front-line health care workers and 109,227 nursing home residents will get the vaccine first, followed by "essential workers," who may include teachers, police, firefighters and others. Adults 65 years and older and those with high-risk medical conditions are on deck after that. The precise plan is still being finalized, and health departments may need to further prioritize within each of those groups based on the availability of the vaccine, but officials say the state will follow CDC guidance.

Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, the latter of which is expected to be approved Friday, require two shots administered about a month apart.

Illinois' first shipment of the vaccine contained about 43,000 doses, with the vast majority headed to 10 regional hospital coordination centers around the state, according to the governor's office. Those hospitals will serve as hubs for distributing the vaccine, with local health departments tasked with getting the vaccine to the public from there. Between 85,000 and 86,000 doses will be available statewide this week, the governor said at a news conference in Peoria Tuesday.

At that news conference, the governor stood by as five of the first Illinoisans took shots containing the vaccine.

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Five others were vaccinated separately in a ceremony in Chicago. Chicago's Loretto Hospital was chosen as the site for the city's first vaccinations because it serves a hard-hit community and does not turn away patients who are unable to pay, according to the Chicago Tribune.

The CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommends all Americans older than 16 get the vaccine when it becomes available. Pregnant women and anyone who has had an allergic reaction to past vaccines should talk to their doctors first. Side effects include redness at the injection site, fatigue and headache, according to an Illinois review board that analyzed Pfizer's trail data and independently declared the vaccine safe.

Unlike the flu vaccine, Pfizer's coronavirus vaccine does not contain the virus itself. Instead, it encodes instructions in genetic material called messenger RNA, telling the body how to best fight the virus. After receiving the instructions, the body begins producing virus-killing antibodies that hunt down the virus before it can make you sick.

Health experts say mass vaccination is our "ticket out" of the pandemic. Without it, the U.S. could see hundreds of thousands more dead and years of social distancing. With the vaccine, life could be back to normal by June — but only if enough people get vaccinated.

"This is going to be an extended process," Illinois Department of Public Health director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said Tuesday. "Even though this is the last mile, we have almost 13 million people in the state. Herd immunity requires maybe 80 percent. We're talking about 10 million people. Five have done it now. It will take quite a while to get to that 10 million."

Ezike said it's hard to lay out an exact timeline, but "most of 2021 will be spent in this effort."

According to a draft planning document provided to local health departments, here's how vaccination could play out in Illinois:

  • Phase 1: Limited/scarce supply of COVID-19 vaccine doses available. Focus initial efforts on reaching critical populations. Ensure vaccination locations selected can reach populations, manage cold chain requirements, and meet reporting requirements for vaccine supply and uptake. Vaccine administration strategies in phase 1, is broken into three (3) sub-phases:

  • Phase 1a:

    • Health Care Personnel.

    • Long Term Care Facility Residents.

  • Phase 1b:

    • Possible groups could include: More guidance to come pending ACIP recommendations.

    • Possible groups could include: Essential Frontline Workers.

  • Phase 1c:

    • Possible groups could include: More guidance to come pending ACIP recommendations.

    • Possible groups could include: Adults with high risk medical conditions and those over 65 years of age.

  • Phase 2: Larger number of vaccine doses available. Focus on ensuring access to vaccine for members of Phase 1 critical populations not yet vaccinated, extend efforts to reach Phase 2 critical populations. Possible groups could include;

    • Possible groups could include: More guidance to come pending ACIP recommendations.

    • Possible groups could include: Workers in industries and occupations important to the functioning of society.

    • Possible groups could include: People with moderate comorbid conditions.

  • Phase 3: Vaccine supply even more widely available.

    • More guidance to come pending ACIP recommendations.

    • Possible groups could include: Immunization of children (if a pediatric vaccine is approved/available).

    • Possible groups could include: Young adults (18-30).

  • Phase 4: Sufficient supply of vaccine doses are available for the entire population (surplus of doses). Possible groups could include; All groups are included in this phase. The focus in this phase is ensuring everyone who qualifies and needs or wants a COVID-19 vaccine receives the requested vaccine at no cost. Federally Qualified Health Centers, Rural Health Clinics, private providers, and pharmacies will assume the majority of the vaccination efforts in their areas in this phase. Local Health Departments will focus vaccination efforts toward the most vulnerable populations, such as homeless populations with limited access to care. IDPH will also use mobile health units, as needed or requested. More guidance to come pending ACIP recommendations.

Amie Schaenzer, Jonah Meadows and Mark Konkol contributed to this reporting.

This article originally appeared on the Across Illinois Patch