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Johnson & Johnson vaccinations to resume in Illinois

Almost three times as many Illinois residents have been fully vaccinated compared to the number who have tested positive for the virus since the pandemic began.

A medical worker prepares a syringe with a dose of the Johnson & Johnson COVCID-19 vaccine at the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 399 union hall vaccination site in Chicago earlier this month.
A medical worker prepares a syringe with a dose of the Johnson & Johnson COVCID-19 vaccine at the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 399 union hall vaccination site in Chicago earlier this month.
Kamil Krzaczynski/AFP via Getty Images

Illinois public health officials gave the green light late Friday for providers across the state to “immediately” resume giving shots of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Chicago officials said they will administer doses of the vaccine starting Saturday, and Cook County officials said they would join in “as early as next week.”

The developments come after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the Food and Drug Administration determined the J&J vaccine was safe after a national “pause” prompted by a handful of women suffering blood clots.

“While we take the blood clot issue very seriously, we know that it is extremely rare,” said Dr. Rachel Rubin, senior medical officer and co-lead of the Cook County Department of Public Health. “Today’s meeting made clear that public health experts from across the country agree that the benefits of getting the J&J vaccine outweigh the risks.”

State officials said Friday the pause in administering the Johnson & Johnson vaccine allowed experts to conduct an extensive review of the cases, and that resuming vaccinations is “proof” the FDA believes the “benefits of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine outweigh its known and potential risks.”

About 760,000 doses were given to Illinois before the pause of which approximately 290,000 were administered, state officials said.

The Chicago Department of Public Health will resume distribution immediately and will begin giving out doses of the vaccine starting Saturday at Kennedy King College. Next week, it will start administering the shot at the Chicago Federation of Labor vaccination site, Chicago State University’s drive-through site, Protect Chicago Homebound and the city’s Vaccination Bus program.

“Vaccine safety is always our top priority and we are confident in the safety and efficacy of the J&J vaccine,” city health officials said in a statement Friday evening. “This pause and safety review shows our vaccine safety monitoring system is working. Millions of people have received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine with no serious side effects and serious reactions are extremely rare.”

Before the national pause, Johnson & Johnson doses had accounted for less than 4% of the 7.3 million shots that had been doled out to that point statewide. A total of 290,615 people — including Gov. J.B. Pritzker —have received it in Illinois, more than 47,000 in Chicago.

This news comes as Illinois’ average statewide COVID-19 testing positivity rate fell to its lowest point in three weeks Friday as public health officials reported 3,369 new cases of the disease.

They were diagnosed among 104,795 tests, sending the positivity rate down to 3.6% and continuing an 11-day streak without any increases in that key metric, which indicates how rapidly the virus is spreading.

State public health officials also reported a third straight night of decreasing COVID-19 hospitalizations, easing concerns — for now — that a third statewide spike in infections that started last month could spiral further out of control. Hospitals across the state were treating 2,112 COVID-19 patients Thursday night.

Chicago’s regional positivity rate is down to 5.1% compared to 5.7% a week ago, while the city’s daily rate has fallen by 15%.

“Case rates are still higher than we’d like them to be,” Chicago Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said Thursday. “But continued progress in the right direction is what is going to let us move toward reopening … and I’m feeling optimistic.”

New COVID-19 cases by day

Graphic by Jesse Howe and Caroline Hurley | Sun-Times

Source: Illinois Department of Public Health

Graph not displaying properly? Click here.

But the virus also killed 22 more Illinois residents, including two Cook County residents in their 40s. The state’s COVID-19 death toll stands at 21,777 among more than 1.3 million residents who have tested positive over the past year.

Almost three times as many residents are now fully immunized, though. With the latest 136,525 vaccine doses that went into Illinois arms Thursday, almost 3.7 million residents are considered fully vaccinated — about 29% of the population.

Illinois is averaging almost 119,000 inoculations per day. All residents 16 and older are eligible for shots at providers statewide.

With supply finally catching up to demand in Chicago, city-run vaccination sites are now accepting limited numbers of walk-in appointments.

For help finding an appointment in Chicago, visit zocdoc.com or call (312) 746-4835. To find providers elsewhere, visit coronavirus.illinois.gov or call (833) 621-1284.

Thousands of appointments are also available throughout the week at a federally run site in Gary, Indiana.

Contributing: Manny Ramos