COVID-19 vaccine arrives in Illinois as state announces 7,214 new cases and 103 additional deaths

The vaccine marked “the beginning of the end of this pandemic,” Gov. J.B. Pritzker said.

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Gov. J.B. Pritzker listens to Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike answer  questions on the arrival and distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine at the James R. Thompson Center in the Loop, Monday, Dec. 14, 2020.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker listens to Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike answer questions on the arrival and distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine at the James R. Thompson Center in the Loop, Monday, Dec. 14, 2020.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Illinois on Monday received its first COVID-19 vaccine shipments and workers hit the ground running to begin distributing doses to hospitals around the state, with vaccinations beginning Tuesday for frontline health care workers.

About 109,000 doses were expected to be delivered to Illinois between initial shipments Monday and another round of deliveries expected Wednesday, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said.

Chicago received a direct shipment of about 23,000 doses, with the first shots expected to be administered to workers at Loretto Hospital, 645 S. Central Ave., Tuesday at 10:30 a.m. The process that will be streamed live on the mayor’s social media accounts, according to the Chicago Department of Public Health.

The remaining 86,000 are earmarked for the state’s 50 counties suffering the highest per capita coronavirus death rates, with direct shipments from the federal government planned for health departments in four of the hardest hit counties: Cook, Lake, Madison and St. Clair.

“Today marks a momentous occasion, not just this year, but in American history,” Pritzker said Monday. “Eleven months after scientists the world over got their hands on the genetic sequence of the virus, we are seeing the beginning of the end of this pandemic.”

Hundreds of thousands of more doses are expected to arrive in the coming weeks, Pritzker said.

Emergency use of the Pfizer vaccine, which is being manufactured in Kalamazoo, Michigan, was approved by federal regulators Friday.

The vaccine arrived on a day in which COVID-19 deaths in the United States surpassed 300,000. On Monday, Illinois’ death toll stood at 14,394.

Frontline hospital and health care workers will be first in line for vaccines, followed by long-term care facility residents, essential workers and people 65 or older with underlying health conditions.

Beginning next week, the state will begin reserving portions of those weekly shipments for residents and staff of long term care facilities for a program being managed by the federal government through contracts with CVS and Walgreens.

It’s estimated that the next three shipments should provide enough doses for all the skilled nursing facilities that have signed up through the national program, at which point the program is expected to expand to other congregate care settings such as assisted living facilities, according to Pritzker.

“We have been praying for this day and preparing for this day for months,” Dr. Ngozi Ezike, the state’s chief health official, said.

Federal guidance on what order the vaccine should be distributed to other essential workers and vulnerable populations is expected in the coming days.

Pritzker himself said he wasn’t sure when he’d get a shot.

“It will be some time, and I’ll take it whenever my turn comes up,” he said.

On Monday morning, Pritzker was at the state’s strategic national stockpile warehouse, the location of which is being kept secret for security reasons, to see thousands of doses transferred to freezers prior to the next round of deliveries across the state.

The vaccine must be stored in extremely low temperatures — about 94 degrees below zero. Pfizer is using containers with dry ice and GPS-enabled sensors to ensure each shipment stays colder than the weather in Antarctica.

The doses were the first of two shots designed to be administered several weeks apart.

Meanwhile, health officials are hopeful that Illinois might avoid an expected surge of COVID-19 cases stemming from people traveling and interacting over Thanksgiving.

Only two of the state’s 11 regions have experienced a “tiny increase” in cases, said Ezike, referencing data from a seven-day stretch that ended Saturday.

“We haven’t seen something significant to talk about now,” she said. “We’ll keep our fingers crossed.”

On Monday, a total of 7,214 new cases and 103 deaths were reported in Illinois.

The new cases came from a batch of 92,256 tests performed in the previous 24 hours.

The state’s seven-day positivity rate for cases from Dec. 7 to Dec. 13 decreased slightly to 8.7% from 9.1%.

As of Sunday night, 4,951 people who tested positive for COVID-19 were reported to be in the hospital. Of that number, 1,070 patients were in intensive care and 621 patients were on ventilators.

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