Vaccines to go to 50 Illinois counties with top death rates

Coronavirus

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — The initial delivery of vaccines to prevent COVID-19 in Illinois will be distributed among the 50 counties with the highest death rates per capita, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Friday as the coronavirus claimed an additional 148 lives in the state.

Officials are expecting an opening shipment of 109,000 vaccine doses as early as mid-month. While hundreds of thousands more are expected in subsequent weeks, Pritzker said, he would not predict how long it would take to vaccinate those first in line.

Dr. Ngozi Ezike, the state public health director, reported 10,526 newly confirmed cases of the coronavirus. The 148 deaths was the eighth-highest single-day total during the pandemic. Fatalities have topped 100 on eight of the last 11 days.

Illinois is following federal guidelines for distributing the vaccine, with health professionals and nursing home residents part of what’s called Phase 1a. Nationally, there are 24 million front-line health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities, Pritzker said. State officials did not respond to a question regarding the number of Illinois residents who qualify for Phase 1a.

“The very first vaccinations will be dedicated to hospitals and health care workers in the 50 counties with the highest death rates per capita,” Pritzker said at his daily COVID-19 briefing in Chicago. “Some quick math will tell you that it’s going to take multiple weeks of distribution to even get our health care workers their first of the two doses that they require, while also getting to the long-term care facility residents.”

Vaccines created by Pfizer and Moderna, which experts predict will get federal regulatory approval next week, each require two shots, with the second shot of the Pfizer vaccine coming three weeks after the first and Moderna’s, four weeks.

Complicating matters is the storage requirement for the Pfizer product. The state has purchased 20 specialized freezers to store it at the required minus 94 degrees, Ezike said.

Pritzker was asked how he will ensure that the priority list isn’t disrupted by the wealthy or connected cutting in line, an especially sensitive subject in Illinois, where there’s a history of favoritism to those with political clout. Pritzker said that each of the 96 county public health departments is required to submit a plan for approval by the Illinois Department of Public Health that conforms with state parameters.

“Then they’re responsible for distributing the vaccine to the providers that will administer it to the communities that are in each phase as it’s laid out,” Pritzker said. “That’s the most important thing.”

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