Chicago is well-prepared to distribute a COVID-19 vaccine, the city’s public health commissioner said Monday.
Dr. Allison Arwady said her department got a jump-start on vaccine preparation in the spring when other local governments were scrambling to buy N-95 masks and other personal protective equipment.
“We had millions of those things stockpiled in advance, so we used that time to buy up all the syringes and the immunization materials and make sure that we really were going to be ready for a vaccine campaign when it came,” Arwady said in an interview on WBEZ’s Reset on Monday.
Questions about vaccine distribution have ramped up as biotech company Moderna released preliminary results showing its experimental vaccine was more than 94% effective at preventing COVID-19. Moderna’s results come one week after Pfizer and BioNTech released similar news from its late-stage clinical trials.
Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker struck a hopeful tone Monday during his daily briefing.
“There’s a light at the end of the tunnel,” Pritzker said. “We have real hope for possible widespread distribution by early spring. … Still, that’s months away. Let’s do all that we can to save lives now, so that more Illinoisans, more Americans will be here to get the vaccine and get to the other side of this pandemic.”
Pritzker said he was on a call Monday with the White House COVID-19 Task Force led by Vice President Mike Pence during which vaccine distribution came up, but Pritzker didn’t go into specifics.
“There wasn’t really a lot, new in my opinion,” Pritzker said. “Although, it’s always good to hear from the head of the CDC [Robert Redfield] … Dr. [Anthony] Fauci … and others who were just giving from their department’s perspectives, on how this will all work.”
The state put out a draft Mass Vaccination Plan a month ago. It explains that the state plans to use much of the infrastructure it currently uses for the federal Vaccines for Children program, that provides children under 18 free vaccines for other infectious diseases, like measles.
The plan lays out data reporting requirements for all hospitals, pharmacies and community health providers who distribute the vaccine. Those institutions must also register and get approved by the state.
There’s an entire section of the draft plan that outlines how vaccines will be distributed. Doses will be divided up to various cities and counties based on their size and their “disease burden.” Health care workers are first in line, followed by people in long-term care facilities. Chicago will get vaccine allocations directly from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Arwady said it’s possible the first doses of a vaccine will show up in Chicago by the end of the year, but they will go to the highest risk health care workers first.
“It’s going to be a number of months before we’ll be at a point where it’s broadly available,” Arwady said. “Again, now is the time to double down on all of those things that do work and bend that curve, even while we’re waiting for the vaccine.”
According to the proposed 2021 budget, the city has budgeted roughly $78 million for vaccine distribution and outreach. This is about a $50 million increase over 2020’s budget, but includes all vaccines, not only the yet-to-be-approved coronavirus ones.
The CDC recently allocated $200 million to state and local governments for vaccine distribution. According to the CDC, Illinois has received $6.2 million for “COVID-19 Vaccine Preparedness” and Chicago has received $1.9 million.
Even if Chicago has enough money and resources, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said there’s “unequivocally” not enough for state and local governments across the country.
“Right now, the federal government, under this current administration, has no real plan, and certainly, hasn’t provided the resources that states and localities are going to need to make sure that we actually get the vaccine distributed to those who need it most,” Lightfoot said.
Many states say much more funding is needed to make sure enough people get vaccinated. The Association of Immunization Managers has requested Congress allocate at least $8 billion to vaccine distribution.
Becky Vevea covers City Hall for WBEZ. Follow her @beckyvevea.