It could be many months before people working from home can get a vaccine based on Illinois’s distribution plan.
Credit: Airman Joseph R Schmitt, U.S. Navy on Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain)
There are over a million people in Illinois who are eligible to receive the vaccine for the COVID-19 virus. As they are working around the clock to produce enough vaccine for the country, obviously they have to distribute it fairly and divide it up equitably so that each state receives some of the doses.
Each state then has to determine who will be vaccinated first. It seems that the Illinois distribution plan, while perhaps logical, will leave those of us working at home, exactly where we are – still at home, waiting our turn to be inoculated when we can rejoin society.
Friday, the U.S. gave the final okay to the country’s first COVID-19 vaccine when the FDA authorized emergency clearance for the vaccine produced by Pfizer Inc. It is anticipated that health workers and nursing home staff and residents will begin to be inoculated in the coming week.
Illinois state health officials originally believed the state was getting 400,000 doses but learned that there will be far fewer, only about 80,000. The doses are being distributed based on the percentage of Illinois residents that live in each city. Because 23 percent of Illinois residents live in Chicago, the city will receive 23 percent of the doses when they arrive.
Originally, that was 92,000 doses of the original 400,000. Now, however, Chicago is slated to only receive 16,000 doses during the coming week. This is only enough to inoculate 8000 people because the Pfizer vaccine requires each person to receive two shots three weeks apart.
The rest of the doses will be distributed to the other areas of Illinois. In terms of who will receive those first doses, the Illinois distribution plan prioritizes those residents they feel are the most valuable to the state in terms of their job functions as they relate to the pandemic.
As such, the first doses will go to healthcare providers. However, the plan is more complicated than that. Based on the populations prioritized by Illinois’ distribution, it will be months before there is widespread inoculation in Illinois for the general population.
Chicago Mayor Lightfoot stated that during the first week they hope to begin administering the vaccine to paid and unpaid healthcare workers at 34 Chicago hospitals. This will be followed by first responders such as police and firefighters.
Week two of the plan calls for beginning to immunize residents and staff at the 128 long term care facilities in Chicago. This includes all staff including those who don’t provide healthcare such as the janitorial staff.
After that, the plan calls for other essential workers to be vaccinated, followed by people over the age of 65 and then others with multiple long term health conditions. The distribution plan also calls for critical infrastructure personnel to be vaccinated prior to the general population.
After the targeted priority groups have been inoculated and more vaccine doses become available, the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) will focus on other communities. These will be communities that are suffering from COVID-19 at disproportionate rates, which include communities of color, older adults, people with disabilities, and people with moderate comorbidities.
At that time they will be given priority for the vaccine. IDPH Health will collaborate with local communities to determine the best ways to target populations that are known to be underserved for vaccinations.
Once these populations have received the vaccine, IDPH will start phasing in vaccinations for the rest of the population. Determining the order these individuals will be inoculated, will still be based on certain factors such as age or disease burden of the area in which they live, in order to provide a fair distribution of the supply of vaccine as it arrives.
Once all of these individuals have received both shots the general population who has not been vaccinated will be able to do so. There is no pediatric vaccine currently available, so children will not be vaccinated at this time.
While Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot appears confident about the schedule for vaccinating workers and residents in Chicago, her estimates appear overly optimistic. There are over 400,000 healthcare workers in Chicago, which means it will require 800,000 doses to inoculate just this group.
There are about 13,100 police officers in Chicago, and 1108 registered fire stations, though the number of actual firefighters and paramedics aren’t reported. This makes it unclear as to how many first responders there are who will need vaccinations. According to the census estimates for 2019, there are about 334,800 people age 65 and over in Chicago. As for the other priority groups, there are no estimates reported.
According to Chicago’s Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady, the doses being shipped for the first week will cover less than 5 percent of Chicago’s health care workers. She said, however, that after the first doses to arrive over the next two weeks she anticipates additional doses to arrive on a weekly basis.
While the government and the state can require vaccinations, getting inoculated against COVID-19 is currently intended to be voluntary. However, employers can require the vaccine. It is impossible to tell how many people in the priority groups will agree to be inoculated. However, health care officials are aiming for 80 percent of the population receiving vaccines in order to produce herd immunity.
Yet considering the large numbers of those in the priority groups and relatively small numbers of doses being shipped, unless production speeds up considerably, there is no predicting how long it will be before health officials approach the number that they believe insures herd immunity. It is also unclear how long it will take to begin inoculating the general population. Regardless of when this occurs, it is reasonable to assume that within the general population, the sizable number of those of us who are working from home will likely be the lowest priority.
This is concerning because it means those of us who are already isolated the most, will be isolated the longest without the ability to participate as the country starts up again once enough people have immunity to the virus. Since employers are able to mandate that their workers have received the vaccination and tested positive for the antibodies, this will also limit many people’s ability to return to work for many more months to come.
While it is necessary to prioritize who receives the limited doses of vaccine first, there also needs to be some thought as to what additional support might be provided to those of us who will be inoculated last. The toll that the effects of the virus have taken on our daily lives is already significant. Leaving a portion of society behind because they don’t fit a priority group will likely worsen these difficulties.