Illinois’ next shipment of Pfizer coronavirus vaccine cut in half by federal government, Pritzker says

Illinois’ allotment of about 109,000 still are expected to be administered to health care workers by the end of the week.

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The state administered some of its first Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccinations Tuesday at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center in downstate Peoria. The state’s next shipments from the federal government are expected to be cut in half.

The state administered some of its first Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccinations Tuesday at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center in downstate Peoria. The state’s next shipments from the federal government are expected to be cut in half.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

A day after the first coronavirus vaccine doses went into Illinois health care workers’ arms, Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Wednesday announced the state’s next vaccine shipments from the federal government will be cut roughly in half.

About 8 million doses initially were scheduled for distribution to hundreds of cities beginning next week through the federal “Operation Warp Speed” effort, but that number has been slashed to 4.3 million, Pritzker said during a COVID-19 briefing.

Another 8.8 million doses had been scheduled to go out the week after, but that’s also been downsized to 4.3 million, Pritzker said. From those totals, doses are distributed to states in proportion to their population.

The federal government sent out about 3 million doses in the first shipments this week, and Illinois’ allotment of about 109,000 still are expected to be administered to health care workers by the end of the week.

Pritzker, who has harshly criticized President Donald Trump’s administration throughout the pandemic, called the decrease “disappointing.”

“This development will likely cut our state’s projected Pfizer shipments this month by roughly half. The same is true across the rest of the nation,” Pritzker said.

“Everybody at every level of government cares deeply about making sure that we’re protecting as many people as quickly as we can, so I don’t want to express frustration with this …. We need to recognize that this is a complex process, and it’s being handled as best it can be.”

Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks to reporters at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center in downstate Peoria in December.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks to reporters after a nurse administered Illinois’ first five Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccinations outside of Chicago on Tuesday at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center in downstate Peoria.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file

First in line for the vaccine are the state’s 655,000 health care workers, followed by about 110,000 long-term care facility residents, then essential workers and older residents with underlying health conditions. Illinois Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said despite any early delays in shipments, the key to ending the pandemic will come “when we get it to the masses on the back end.”

“A lot of it is logistics for a very difficult product that no one has ever dealt with in the vaccine world, so we want to get it right, not just fast,” Ezike said.

Millions more doses could soon be on tap if the Moderna vaccine receives federal approval as expected later this week, but Pritzker said, “I now no longer fully believe projections that are put in front of us by the federal government.”

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Pritzker announced the reduced doses as public health officials said the coronavirus has killed another 146 Illinois residents and spread to 7,123 more. The new cases were diagnosed among 93,278 tests, lowering the state’s average positivity rate to 8.5%.

That number, which indicates how rapidly the virus is spreading, has gradually decreased along with other key metrics since Illinois’ autumn resurgence skyrocketed to all-time highs in mid-November.

Hospitals across the state were treating 4,793 COVID-19 patients as of Tuesday night — still comparable to the burden hospitals faced during the first wave in the spring, but the first time the number of occupied beds has dipped below 4,800 since Nov. 9.

Intensive care unit occupancy also decreased slightly to 1,045 patients statewide, as did the number of those on ventilators, down to 590.

But COVID-19 deaths are still accumulating at a staggering rate. The latest 146 deaths are above average for the state over the last month in which nearly 4,000 people have died of the respiratory disease.

That accounts for almost a third of the state’s death toll over nine months of the pandemic, which is now up to 14,655. The latest victims included 62 Chicago-area residents.

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Aside from some slight increases in positivity rates in several Chicago-area regions, the state apparently avoided the severe post-Thanksgiving “surge upon a surge,” keeping numbers trending in the right direction as a massive vaccination campaign gets underway.

“It does not signify the end of the pandemic — not yet, but it is the beginning of the end,” Ezike said. “It’s the last mile, but that last mile of the super marathon has quite a few bumps and hurdles, but we will get through it together.”

Since March, 12 million COVID-19 tests have been administered in the state and 870,600 people have tested positive. The recovery rate is 97%.

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