Illinois’ First Vaccines Will Go To The 50 Counties With The Highest COVID-19 Mortality

This photo provided by the University of Maryland School of Medicine shows the first patient enrolled in Pfizer’s COVID-19 coronavirus vaccine clinical trial receiving an injection in May.
This photo provided by the University of Maryland School of Medicine shows the first patient enrolled in Pfizer's COVID-19 coronavirus vaccine clinical trial receiving an injection in May. Courtesy of University of Maryland School of Medicine /AP
This photo provided by the University of Maryland School of Medicine shows the first patient enrolled in Pfizer’s COVID-19 coronavirus vaccine clinical trial receiving an injection in May.
This photo provided by the University of Maryland School of Medicine shows the first patient enrolled in Pfizer's COVID-19 coronavirus vaccine clinical trial receiving an injection in May. Courtesy of University of Maryland School of Medicine /AP

Illinois’ First Vaccines Will Go To The 50 Counties With The Highest COVID-19 Mortality

Illinois’ first COVID-19 vaccine shipment this month will be sent to the 50 counties with the highest mortality rates, but it won’t come close to covering health-care workers and those in nursing homes who have the highest priorities, Gov. JB Pritzker said Friday.

The Democratic governor said Illinois is expecting later this month to receive roughly 109,000 doses of the vaccine developed by Pfizer, pending federal approval, with additional dosages possible from Moderna by month’s end. Of that total from Pfizer, 23,000 doses will go to Chicago, Pritzker said.

Illinois is gearing up for a vaccine distribution undertaking unlike any in state history and taking cues from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as to who gets vaccinated in the initial wave of shipments and beyond.

That Illinois is now ready to begin distributing effective vaccines less than a year after the pandemic arrived is something Pritzker chalked up to a blend of scientific marvel and religious miracle.

“I don’t think it at any time, even during the last pandemic, there was anything quite like this,” Pritzker said, harkening back to the 1918-1919 Spanish flu epidemic. “There wasn’t a vaccine that was being distributed like this and in such quick fashion, too. So, this is unprecedented, like everything else in 2020.

“I’ve stood up here … 130 times at press conferences during this year, and I talk sometimes about my prayers — our prayers collectively — for the researchers,” he continued. “ And I think the prayer that we could have vaccines in relatively short order seems to have been answered.”

Under the Pritzker administration’s plan, shots will be administered first to workers in clinics, hospitals and nursing homes and to elderly occupants of nursing homes.

“This is Phase 1A of vaccine distribution,” Pritzker said, noting how the state is poised to begin receiving multiple waves of vaccines, most likely on a rolling, weekly basis. “The goal here is to fortify the health care workforce by removing these most exposed workers from the cycle of quarantine, illness and infection as well as protecting our most vulnerable residents.”

All told, there are approximately 655,000 health care workers eligible for the first wave of vaccinations, with nearly 162,000 of those in Chicago. Statewide, there are more than 109,000 people in nursing homes and assisted living facilities, including nearly 16,000 in Chicago.

The first batch of doses will not come close to covering that entire population, particularly considering two vaccinations are required for both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines to have full effect. So that means getting the first eligible groups vaccinated is almost certain to extend into early next year.

“Some quick math will tell you that it’s going to take multiple weeks of distribution to even get our healthcare workers their first of the two doses that they require while also getting to the long-term care facility residents,” the governor said.

The broader population likely won’t get access to the vaccines until possibly late winter or spring.

“This will not be a quick process,” Pritzker continued. “With the two-dose timeline, no single person will be fully vaccinated even by Christmas, and it will likely be months before people with low-risk factors for COVID-19 see their first dose.”

Chicago will receive its own shipment of about 23,000 Pfizer doses as part of the initial wave of vaccines that could begin arriving in the state as early as the week of December 13th, pending approval of the drug by the federal Food and Drug Administration, the governor said.

Outside of the city, counties with the highest COVID-19-related mortality rates will be prioritized in receiving the vaccine, with shipments being distributed first to hospitals in those regions, which will work in partnership with local public health departments. Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake and Will counties are all included among the first 50 counties getting shipments.

Pritzker’s comments on the vaccine comes as Illinois continues to see relatively steady — yet high — daily cases of the virus. New data released Friday showed roughly seven Illinoisans per minute being diagnosed with COVID-19, and one person roughly every 10 minutes dying from the virus.

State public health authorities received notice Friday of another 10,526 positive cases in the previous 24 hours. Those included another 148 deaths, putting Illinois at nearly 13,000 total fatalities since the start of the pandemic.

Dave McKinney and Tony Arnold cover Illinois politics and government. Follow them on Twitter @davemckinney and @tonyjarnold.