What You Need To Know About Chicago’s COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Plan

A vial of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine ready for administration at Guy’s Hospital in London on Tuesday.
A vial of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine ready for administration at Guy's Hospital in London on Tuesday. Associated Press
A vial of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine ready for administration at Guy’s Hospital in London on Tuesday.
A vial of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine ready for administration at Guy's Hospital in London on Tuesday. Associated Press

What You Need To Know About Chicago’s COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Plan

The City of Chicago on Wednesday rolled out more details about its COVID-19 vaccination plan.

Federal authorities are expected to consider emergency authorization for a vaccine developed by Pfizer/BioNTech in the coming days. Then the companies can start shipping hundreds of thousands of doses across the country.

Chicago public health officials say they are anticipating 23,000 doses will be available next week.

“We have plans that are very flexible,” said Dr. Allison Arwady, Chicago’s Commissioner of Public Health. “I don’t know, for sure, how many doses will be coming in the weeks to come.”

Here’s what you need to know about the city’s plans to distribute COVID-19 vaccines once they arrive.

Who’s getting vaccinated first, and how many doses will there be?

If you’re not a health care worker, don’t line up for your shots just yet.

There are roughly 400,000 health care workers in Chicago. How quickly those people can get a two-dose vaccination will depend on supply.

Arwady said Wednesday that if both the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine and one made by Moderna are approved for emergency use in the next two weeks, it’s possible the city could get between 100,000 and 150,000 doses before the end of the year.

But that would still only be enough to reach a quarter of all health care workers here. That means it could take a few months before other groups are offered a chance to roll up their sleeves.

Aside from a doctor’s office, where will people get vaccinated?

Similar to the mass testing sites that have popped up since the start of the pandemic, the city plans to open so-called “closed points of dispensing,” or mass vaccination sites, Arwady said.

These sites will offer shots by appointment only – and initially, they will only be open to health care workers, including many who do not work in hospital settings. Arwady said her department plans to open one in late December or early January at a large public venue, like a gymnasium at a city college.

“Much further down the line … we’ll start bringing in essential workers, people over 65, and those with underlying conditions,” Arwady added.

At that point – likely by March or later – community-based clinics and other public health partners will also start helping vaccinate the next priority groups.

How will nursing home residents and staffers get their shots?

In about two weeks, residents and workers in long-term care facilities, like nursing homes, will start getting access to COVID-19 vaccines.

There are 128 of these kinds of facilities in Chicago and Arwady said most do not have the infrastructure to handle the logistics of vaccination. That’s why the federal government contracted directly with large pharmacies, like CVS and Walgreens, to help vaccinate people in those settings.

“Walgreens, for example, will be working with a specific long-term care facility, bringing vaccines to that facility, vaccinating both staff and residents, handling the reporting and handling the follow-up,” Arwady said.

City officials said residents and staff in these facilities tend to be more racially diverse. A sampling of the data showed about half of residents and 60% of staff are Black.

How will we know whether vaccines are being distributed equitably?

The city will track the demographic information for vaccine recipients.

Combating inaccurate information and skepticism around vaccines will be the hardest part of rolling out a vaccine, Arwady said. The city has a website with updated information about the vaccine and the city’s rollout plans.

The medical community’s history of experimenting on people of color has led to distrust among the very populations being hit the hardest by COVID-19. Rebuilding that trust will take time, and Arwady said her department is working to lay the foundation now so that when vaccines are available to the broader public, people will take them.

“We have a plan where we’ll be pairing health care workers who work in particular ZIP codes, who have been vaccinated, who are willing to be vaccine champions to do some of the explaining, pairing them up with trusted community voices,” Arwady said.

CDPH will also require all organizations who are administering vaccines to report who is getting the shot by race, ethnicity, age, and ZIP code. Individual level data will be protected by federal law under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPPA.

Becky Vevea covers city politics for WBEZ. Follow her @beckyvevea.