Illinois has administered about 188,800 doses of the updated COVID-19 vaccines since the reformulated shots arrived last week, according to the state health department. In Chicago alone, where nearly two million residents are now eligible for the jab, more than 32,000 doses have been given, the city announced Friday.
Anyone 12 and older who has completed an initial vaccine series can get the new shot, which is meant to offer added protection against both the original strain of COVID and dominant omicron subvariants. Public health officials have stressed that a large number of people getting the booster will help stave off the spread of the virus.
“It’s important for everyone who is eligible to get up to date on vaccines and boosters as soon as possible, before a potential fall and winter surge leads to increased infections,” Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Sameer Vohra said Friday in a statement.
About 44% of the doses administered in Illinois so far have gone to people over 65, according to the state health department.
Dr. Allison Arwady, Chicago’s top doctor, said in a Friday statement that she’s concerned about the lower response rate from Black and Latino Chicagoans. About 65% of boosters administered in the city have so far gone to white residents, according to the Chicago Department of Public Health, whose stats are only through Wednesday.
COVID cases in Chicago have been declining in recent weeks — with the city averaging about 400 new cases daily, not including at-home tests — but officials stress the possibility of a seasonal surge.
In the last two years, the cooler months meant a surge in COVID cases, including last December when omicron first emerged in the U.S. and led to huge increases in infections and hospitalizations.
Arwady, said “we would be very lucky to avoid” another surge this year, but the severity may depend on how many people ultimately roll up their sleeves for the new vaccine.
“Vaccine is partly about yourself, but it is also about your family, your community and those at highest risk,” Arwady said in a Facebook Live on Tuesday. “Getting vaccinated helps. It, of course, does not completely prevent COVID, but it’s super important for preventing severe COVID and it does decrease the risk even of getting infected.”
Dr. Emily Landon, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Chicago, said the unknown long term effects of the virus is reason enough to try your best to dodge an infection all together.
“There’s good reason to avoid getting COVID still,” Landon said. “Sure, you’re likely to do great, even if you get one or two rounds of COVID, but how many times are you going to roll the dice before you hit the number that you didn’t want.
“I think we should be doing more as a community to avoid getting COVID and we need to have more voices in our community saying, ‘yeah, I want to avoid getting COVID, even if it’s not that bad, because I don’t want that risk of the long term.’ ”
Landon said getting through the cold months safely means watching the trends and doing individual risk assessment.
If there is a contagious new variant or numbers start to rise in your area, Landon advises doing more stuff outside, wearing a mask when you’re inside and trying to be creative about rearranging things.
And when you do mask up indoors, Landon advises wearing the best mask you can — like an N95 or KN95. Even more important than which mask you choose is how it fits, she said, noting the should be sealed and tight on your face.
In addition to COVID, there are also the typical winter viruses, like the flu, which could spread more easily this year.
“This is the first flu season that we’re going to have in the last couple of years where we really have decreased mitigation, so we don’t have as much mask wearing, social distancing, etc.,” Dr. Mia Taormina, an infectious disease specialist with Duly Health and Care in Chicago, told WBEZ’s Reset.
In a press release Wednesday, Arwady said, “this is not the year to skip your flu vaccine.”
The city is making use of its mass vaccination sites at city colleges to get people both their flu vaccine and updated COVID booster, which can be given in the same appointment.
Courtney Kueppers is a digital producer/reporter at WBEZ. Follow her @cmkueppers.