It could take year and a half to vaccinate all Chicago residents if feds don’t speed up pace, Lightfoot says

The mayor called on President-elect Joe Biden to deliver significantly more doses of vaccine after the effort by the Trump administration has fallen way short.

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Dr. Marina Del Rios gets her 2nd and final dose of the vaccination at Norwegian American Hospital on the West Side, Tuesday morning, Jan. 5, 2021.

Dr. Marina Del Rios of University of Illinois Health, the first person to get a COVID-19 vaccine in Chicago, gets her 2nd and final dose at Norwegian American Hospital Tuesday.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Mayor Lori Lightfoot called on President-elect Joe Biden to deliver significantly more COVID-19 vaccines to Chicago and other cities or face a drawn out pandemic that will last well into 2022.

Lightfoot, at a media event showcasing the first five Chicago health care workers receiving their second doses of vaccine, said that the rate of distribution to cities is way too slow and added that it will take Chicago almost a year and a half to vaccinate all the city’s residents unless things speed up.

“We do not have enough vaccine,” Lightfoot said. “If you want to have us bend this curve and give people confidence that they can resume their normal lives, there must be an exponential increase in the amount of vaccine that is available to cities and towns all over this country.”

Lightfoot directed her criticism at President Donald Trump for falling well short of a promised 20 million doses to be delivered nationally by the end of 2020, but called upon his administration and Biden to fix the problem.

“Whatever problems there were before, we cannot solve them, but we have an obligation to solve them going forward and solve them we must,” Lightfoot said. “The federal government absolutely, 100% must step up.”

The city has distributed 95% of the vaccines it has received so far, Lightfoot said. There have been more than 36,500 shots administered through Monday, according to city data.

Dr. Allison Arwady, the city’s top health official, said the city expects the arrival this week of nearly 33,000 more doses of the two vaccines approved for emergency use, made by Pfizer and Moderna. She urged those who received shots to get their second doses because only after the second shot can the vaccines be more than 90% effective.

“There hasn’t been as much discussion about the second dose,” Arwady said. “It is not enough to get one dose of COVID-19 vaccine based on the vaccines that are available today.”

Citing clinical research, Arwady said only after the second doses of the Pfizer vaccine (administered three weeks after the first dose) or the Moderna vaccine (given four weeks after the first dose) that near complete protection against the virus can be assured.

Saying there have been more than 4.5 million people nationally receiving a COVID vaccine, the shots have shown to be safe and effective so far, Arwady said.

At Norwegian American Hospital in Humboldt Park on Tuesday, the first five Chicagoans to receive a COVID vaccine three weeks ago were given their second dose. The five health care workers are: Dr. Marina Del Rios, director of Social Emergency Medicine at University of Illinois Health; Elizabeth Zimnie, an emergency room nurse at Norwegian; Barbara Shields Johnson, a critical care nurse at The Loretto Hospital; Jermilla Hill, a patient care technician at Loretto; and Mark Hooks, an emergency room nurse at Loretto.


Health care workers applaud after the first five people to get the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine in Chicago get their second and final doses.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

The Norwegian hospital location was selected to highlight the disproportionate number of COVID cases on the West Side.

“These are workers who have been treating COVID-19 patients in some of our hardest-hit communities,” Lightfoot said. “COVID 19 has left a disproportionate and devastating impact on Black and Brown Chicago.”

Hospital workers in Chicago are the first designated to receive the vaccines, while long term care residents and employees will be next in line. The Lightfoot Administration wants to highlight Black and Latino health care workers who get the shots to help reassure the broader communities of color that they are safe.

Arwady said the city is asking hospitals to make certain all of its workers are being offered the vaccine. So far, the city’s preliminary figures show more white and Asian doctors, nurses and other hospital workers are receiving the shots, she said.

“We are seeing more white and Asian health care workers raise their hands first, which does not mean there are not a lot of Black and Latinix health care workers out there also raising their hands as we’ve seen, but we are seeing somewhat more hesitation,” Arwady said.

Brett Chase’s reporting on the environment and public health is made possible by a grant from The Chicago Community Trust.

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