Pause on Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine won’t affect United Center appointments, city’s top doc says

Officials have downplayed the impact of the pause on J&J doses, which account for less than 4% of the 7.6 million shots that have been given statewide so far.

SHARE Pause on Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine won’t affect United Center appointments, city’s top doc says
People approach to receive doses of a COVID-19 vaccine at the United Center’s mass vaccination clinic last month on the Near West Side.

People approach to receive doses of a COVID-19 vaccine at the United Center’s mass vaccination clinic last month on the Near West Side.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Appointments at the United Center’s COVID-19 mass vaccination site will go on as scheduled next week with Pfizer doses being administered instead of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine that’s been shelved nationwide, officials said Thursday.

The city’s most prominent mass vax site has been doling out Pfizer since it launched a month ago in a parking lot across the street from the Near West Side arena.

That’ll still be the case Monday, which is when the federally run site had been scheduled to switch to J&J doses — until a handful of extremely rare blood clots tied to that vaccine prompted a temporary suspension this week while experts investigate.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency will provide additional Pfizer doses in its place, meaning plans won’t change for anyone with a United Center appointment, according to Chicago Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady.

“Everybody who has an appointment from Monday on at the United Center can keep that appointment. You do not need to do a thing. You will just receive Pfizer instead of Johnson & Johnson,” Arwady said during an online Q&A.

The city’s other mass vaccination sites will be switching to Pfizer or Moderna doses, too, as will most county- and state-run sites. Officials have downplayed the impact of the pause on J&J doses, which account for less than 4% of the 7.6 million shots that have been given statewide so far, and barely 8% of Illinois’ total vaccine supply.

More United Center appointments will be opened online through the weekend at zocdoc.com, said Arwady, who’s encouraging residents to get a shot wherever they can find it as the city opens eligibility to all residents 16 and up starting Monday.

That includes FEMA’s vaccination site in Gary, Indiana, which has thousands of appointments available through next week — all of which are open to Illinois residents.

“People who have traveled outside Chicago and have had the means to do so, I want to thank you for doing that because you getting vaccinated outside Chicago does leave us more vaccine to be able to get it to folks who maybe don’t have the means,” Arwady said. “And given that we’ve vaccinated a lot of non-Chicagoans, it helps us also make sure that we can be as covered as possible.”

About 23% of city residents have been fully vaccinated so far, compared to 24% of all Illinois residents.

COVID-19 vaccine doses administered by day

Graphic by Jesse Howe and Caroline Hurley | Sun-Times

Source: Illinois Department of Public Health

Graph not displaying properly? Click here.

A total of 129,755 shots were administered Monday, which is just above the statewide average for the past week.

Coronavirus cases are still rising across Chicago and the rest of Illinois, but Arwady and Gov. J.B. Pritzker have expressed cautious optimism that the third surge might be slowing down.

The Illinois Department of Public Health reported 3,581 new cases of the disease were diagnosed among 105,661 tests to keep the state’s average testing positivity rate at 4.2%. That number indicates how rapidly the virus is spreading. It’s doubled since March 12, but has fallen or held steady for three consecutive days.

The state’s number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients also fell by 33 down from Tuesday night down to 2,043 as of Wednesday — still almost double what it was a month ago.

Officials also reported 40 more coronavirus deaths — the most reported by the state in a day since March 11 — including 11 Cook County residents.

Illinois’ death toll is up to 21,609 since last March. Nearly 1.3 million residents have tested positive overall.

For help finding a vaccine appointment, visit coronavirus.illinois.gov or call (833) 621-1284.

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