Here’s what you need to know about COVID-19 vaccines in Illinois

Illinois residents outside Cook County who are younger than 65 and have preexisting health conditions will be eligible to get a COVID-19 vaccine shot beginning Feb. 25 under the current phase of the state’s vaccination effort, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said this week.

The move comes as the state struggles to vaccinate the roughly 3.2 million residents 65 and older and front-line essential workers who are already eligible under phase 1b of the vaccine distribution plan. Pritzker’s office could not say how many people the expanded eligibility will add to those in the lengthy line for a shot.

With the number of COVID-19 vaccinations administered in Illinois now surpassing 1.5 million, the state requested Federal Disaster Survivor Assistance teams to help in community outreach at vaccination sites in two counties including Cook beginning this week, the Pritzker administration said.

Chicago, which is supplied with and distributes its own vaccine supply, quickly opted not to join the state in expanding the reach of phase 1b. Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle, in a joint statement issued with Mayor Lori Lightfoot, said the county also would not expand eligibility.

Chicago’s public health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady also this week again implored people to stop sharing vaccine appointment codes at its city-run sites, a recurring issue that she said has caused logistical headaches for her staff and taken up slots from people who are actually eligible.

Additionally, the city of Chicago is promoting a national website that will allow people to find and schedule COVID-19 vaccination appointments, officials announced this month. The online sign-ups, however, come amid extremely limited doses of the vaccines, meaning appointments can be tough to come by.

And if you have managed to get the vaccine? Tell us how it went here.

Here’s what you need to know about COVID-19 vaccines in Illinois:

Chicago could push back 1c vaccine start date if city doesn’t get more doses: Arwady

Chicago public health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady has warned the city could push back the start date for vaccinating a broader range of residents if the federal government doesn’t send more doses.

“If we don’t get significantly more vaccine, like we’re anticipating, it’s possible we may have to push the date for 1C back, but at this point, we’re going with the projections,” Arwady said Tuesday.

Arwady reiterated on Wednesday that the next vaccine phase could be pushed back but said she’s optimistic that won’t be necessary. She said she hopes the city will be getting more vaccine by March.

Read more here.

What you need to know about the COVID-19 vaccine second dose: timely appointments, adequate supplies, knowledge of side effects

As health care providers are ramping up first doses and preparing to administer second doses for the large, phase 1b contingent of senior citizens and essential workers, they are performing a complicated, logistical dance that involves signing patients up for appointments within the proper time frame, offering help to make sure patients can come to that appointment and carefully tracking inventory to be sure they have the second doses on hand.

As of Monday, just under 2% of the state’s population had received both vaccine doses, according to data from the Illinois Department of Public Health.

Many clinics are making second dose appointments while people are on site, but at least one health care provider has received calls from people who were told they may not be able to receive a second dose at their original location, revealing cracks in a complex system.

Read more here.

Chicago officials point residents to website that allows users to find and book COVID-19 vaccination appointments

The city of Chicago is promoting a national website that will allow people to find and schedule COVID-19 vaccination appointments, officials announced Tuesday.

The site,, is run by an outside provider and will allow users to find and book appointments from some local vaccination sites including city-run mass vaccination sites and those operated by AMITA Health, Erie Family Health, Innovative Express Care and Rush University Medical Center, city officials said.

The partnership comes at no cost to the city and also will allow people to sign up to be notified when new appointments are available, public health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said in a news conference.

But Arwady also noted that the city is only receiving about 40,000 first doses this week, or enough to vaccinate about 5,700 people per day. When asked by a reporter about Zocdoc’s February appointments appearing to be already booked up, she said that was normal and residents should register their emails for notifications on future availability.

“Like I said, very limited vaccine appointments, and as we receive more vaccine, we’ll be able to be making more appointments available,” Arwady said.

Read more here.

How do I schedule a second COVID-19 vaccine shot? Why hasn’t my health system contacted me yet? Common Illinois vaccine questions answered.

The first official week of COVID-19 vaccinations for seniors and essential workers in Illinois has sparked mixed emotions and many questions about the process of getting vaccinated.

The vast majority of Illinois seniors and front-line essential workers who are eligible for vaccinations under the phase that started Monday have not yet received shots. Supply remains extremely limited.

But some of those who did get vaccinated reported problems scheduling a second shot. Others worried that a blizzard would keep them from their appointments. Many of those who have yet to be vaccinated are wondering why their health systems haven’t yet invited them to be inoculated.

The Tribune reached out to retail pharmacies, health systems and the Cook County Department of Public Health to get answers to those questions, and others, about getting vaccinated.

Read more here.

Walgreens, Jewel-Osco, Walmart and Cook County scheduling COVID-19 vaccine appointments, though demand is great and doses scarce

Walgreens, Jewel-Osco, Walmart, and suburban Cook County are scheduling COVID-19 vaccine appointments for eligible Chicago-area residents.

The state has also launched a website where people can find vaccination locations and links to schedule appointments.

The online sign-ups, however, come amid extremely limited doses of the vaccines, meaning appointments can be tough to come by. Some people have reported spending hours online trying to snag spots or choosing appointments far from their homes, in hopes of not having to wait weeks, or months, for their turn. Others say they’ve been unable to find appointments at all.

The retail pharmacies and county began scheduling appointments as the state moved into phase 1b of COVID-19 vaccinations Monday, which includes people ages 65 and older and front-line essential workers such as teachers and public transportation and grocery store employees. Many hospital systems have also started sending out electronic invitations to senior patients to make appointments for the shots.

Read more here.

COVID-19 Q&A: Do all Cook County ZIP codes work on the county’s vaccination website? Coronavirus questions answered.

Do all Cook County ZIP codes work for the county’s vaccination program? How will the COVID-19 variants affect the effectiveness of the vaccines?

These are some of the many questions readers have sent us that we’ve put to health and science experts.

Read more here.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot unveils plan to send more COVID-19 vaccines to Black and Latino neighborhoods

In an effort to boost COVID-19 vaccination rates in Chicago’s hard-hit Black and Latino neighborhoods, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Monday she plans to increase the number of doses for mostly South and West side communities while partnering with local groups on a U.S. census-style outreach plan.

So far, the city said, most Black and Latino communities that have been hit hardest by the virus lag far behind downtown and the Near North Side in getting vaccinated. Part of that is due to some health care workers living in those areas, but Lightfoot said the number of Black and Latino residents who have gotten the vaccine is “alarmingly low.”

“If we do not reverse this trend, we will continue to see more Black and brown (residents) die of this virus when a vaccine is right here, right now, for free, for all,” she said minutes after receiving her first dose of vaccine.

“To those of you who are hesitant, we are here to tell you the vaccine is safe,” Lightfoot said. “We want you to take it because it is safe and because it will save your life.”

Read more here.

When will pregnant women have access to the vaccine? Despite their risk, they’re limited by data

Despite being an at-risk population, pregnant women are not included in early phases of vaccination in Illinois. According to the Chicago Department of Public Health, they would be eligible for the vaccine along with the general population, estimated to be May 31.

Similarly, the state Health Department does not include pregnant women in early phases, although pregnant women who are eligible otherwise, such as a health care worker, may receive a vaccine. According to a statement from the Health Department, “the currently available studies do not provide direct information about vaccine safety and effectiveness in these groups of people.” On Jan. 21, a Health Department spokeswoman added that the department is still determining its phase 1c population.

This reflects the conundrum pregnant women find themselves in: at high risk but with limited data and options.

Read more here.

Vaccine trial participants who received placebo now hop the line for the real thing from Pfizer, Moderna

Good news for tens of thousands of volunteers in the COVID-19 vaccine trials: Many of those who received a placebo are now being offered a vaccine — in some cases, earlier than they would otherwise have been eligible.

Participants in Pfizer’s vaccine study — some of whom had mounted a noisy campaign on social media — have been advised that anyone who wants one can receive the first of two shots by March 1. Participants in Moderna’s vaccine trial already are getting immunized.

Read more here.

COVID-19 vaccines move back-to-the-office plans closer to reality. Here are some key challenges for 2021.

COVID-19 vaccines are only a first step toward a return to the office, but it gives downtown employers something that’s been missing since March: a sense of urgency.

“I think the vaccine is a game-changer because it gives light at the end of the tunnel, and workers can talk about returning to the office as if it’s a real thing,” said Bridget Gainer, vice president of global affairs at Aon, which is leading a coalition of large employers in Chicago and other cities throughout the world to plan for the future of offices.

“Plans can start moving from theoretical to practical,” she said.

Vaccinations bring hope, but employers are grappling with how they’ll need to change in a post-pandemic business world, with no precedent to guide them.

Read more here.

Walgreens, CVS predict COVID-19 vaccines will be available to the general public by appointment at pharmacies by spring

With health care workers the first to receive the COVID-19 vaccine and residents and staff of long-term care facilities next, Americans are asking when it will be their turn to get a dose.

Walgreens and CVS Health predict the vaccine will be available to the public during the spring, and patients will most likely be able to make appointments to get the shots at pharmacies.

“I think that the best and easiest place for people to get these vaccinations is going to be the retail pharmacies,” said Dr. Troyen Brennan, chief medical officer for CVS, during a Thursday panel discussion with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation on the vaccine rollout.

“Operation Warp Speed already contracted with 16 different pharmacy chains,” Brennan said. “Our point of view is that once we gear up in the pharmacy, we can give 20 to 25 million doses per month.”

Read more here.

No, COVID-19 vaccines don’t contain Satan’s microchips (and other scary conspiracy theories aren’t true either)

There lies a challenge for public health officials trying to convince a wary portion of the public that the COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective. Phony assertions have circulated for months on social media, joining a current of anti-vaccine sentiment that has grown stronger over the last 20 years

A poll released last week showed that only 47% of Americans plan to get the vaccine. Those who didn’t want it mostly said they were concerned about side effects and the development and approval process, though the poll didn’t ask about many widely circulating myths.

Zizi Papacharissi, a communication and political science professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said social media has made it easy to amplify vaccine fabrications. Though companies like Facebook and YouTube have pledged to suppress such misinformation, she said that happens only after it has already spread.

“Any action they take is retroactive,” she said. " ... Putting something over it that says, ‘This is possibly misinformation,’ or taking the post down, it’s not really going to help. In fact, it might do the opposite. It might attract even more attention.”

As the rollout begins, here are common myths about COVID-19 vaccines and what experts have to say about them. Read more here.

Do you have questions about the coronavirus vaccine? Send them to us and we’ll ask the experts.

What’s it like to take part in a COVID-19 vaccine trial? Three Chicago-area participants share their experiences

David Daly was a little bit nervous earlier this month as the syringe pricked his upper arm, the first injection he received as a volunteer in a local COVID-19 vaccine clinical trial.

The 43-year-old actuary from southwest suburban Lockport knows there is always some risk involved in helping test the safety and efficacy of any new drug.

Daly is among the roughly half-million Americans who have signed up to participate in various vaccine trials as scientists race to produce safe and effective immunizations to the coronavirus.

Read more here.

Vaccine shortages have led to theft, smuggling and doses going to the famous instead of the needy. Will it happen again with COVID-19?

Sixteen years ago, in the middle of a wretched Chicago Bears season, a scandal erupted at Halas Hall that had nothing to do with inept quarterbacking or sketchy play calling — but like the Bears’ misery, it remains relevant today.

An acute shortage of influenza vaccine gripped the country in the fall of 2004, forcing the elderly to wait in hourslong lines for a dose, often without success. The scarcity became such a hot political issue that both President Bush and his election challenger, John Kerry, forswore flu shots until the crisis eased.

But even as Illinois flu clinics closed for want of the vaccine, the Bears obtained shots through their prescribing physician and offered them to players — young men in superb physical condition who fell far outside the rationing guidelines established by federal health officials.

The uproar in Lake Forest was just one small part of a national ruckus over the vaccine that lasted for months. Along with cries of unfairness came reports of more sinister matters such as theft, smuggling and price gouging.

As America prepares to distribute another scarce vaccine, some are wary that history could repeat. Interpol is warning that criminals are scheming to intercept COVID-19 vaccines, and federal officials have raised concerns about counterfeit doses — the scenario that most worries Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association.

“My biggest fear is not so much that too many celebrities will get it first,” he said. “Tragically, that’s going to happen. I just hope there’s not a lot of it. My biggest fear is the black market and the false market. I’m concerned about people fraudulently selling vaccine and people being defrauded by (phony promises).”

Read more here.

As coronavirus vaccine distribution begins, prepare to carry another thing in your pocket: A COVID-19 credential to show you’ve been inoculated

Among all the tools that health agencies have developed over the years to fight epidemics, at least one has remained a constant for more than a century: paper vaccination certificates.

In the 1880s, in response to smallpox outbreaks, some public schools began requiring students and teachers to show vaccination cards. In the 1960s, amid yellow fever epidemics, the World Health Organization introduced an international travel document, known informally as the yellow card. Even now, travelers from certain regions are required to show a version of the card at airports.

But now, just as the United States is preparing to distribute the first vaccines for the virus, the entry ticket to the nation’s reopening is set to come largely in the form of a digital health credential.

Read more here.