Chicago working toward vaccine distribution plan

Health officials are considering an "all hands on deck" effort that includes paramedics helping to administer the COVID-19 vaccine


John Byrne
Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO — Chicago’s health commissioner on Wednesday said the coronavirus fight in 2021 could shift to convincing people to get the vaccine and then figuring out how to safely administer it to huge numbers of residents.

In her latest update to aldermen, Dr. Allison Arwady said it’s tough to predict whether the city will see its healthcare facilities heavily taxed by the combination of COVID-19 and flu cases this winter.

Chicago Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady laid out possible strategies for distributing the COVID-19 vaccine at an aldermen's meeting Wednesday. (Photo/Antonio Perez, Chicago Tribune)
Chicago Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady laid out possible strategies for distributing the COVID-19 vaccine at an aldermen's meeting Wednesday. (Photo/Antonio Perez, Chicago Tribune)

The flu season has been light this year in parts of the southern hemisphere, she said, possibly because people are wearing masks and distancing because of the coronavirus. “It’s very clear we’re still learning about this virus,” Arwady said.

Looking ahead, Arwady told the City Council Health Committee that while a vaccine might be medically available before the end of 2020, it still would need more testing before the huge task of distributing it could begin.

Then, when it does become widely available, how to get it to people? Arwady said the city is thinking about different ways to administer this year’s flu vaccines as a precursor to the coronavirus effort.

“We’ve all gotten used to this idea of drive-through testing. Drive-through vaccination very well may be a possibility, but you can’t vaccinate a child in that context,” Arwady said. “Would we try, what might that look like? What might it look like to have sort of a drive-through setting where people are actually getting out of a car, but it’s socially distanced?”

Big outdoor spaces could be part of it, she said.

“What would it look like to do this in a very large open setting like a city college or a large high school, versus doing more kind of smaller, community based, making sure all of the appropriate safety precautions are in,” she said.

The city likely will broaden the types of people who can administer the COVID-19 vaccines, including paramedics and pharmacy students with supervision, she said. “It’s going to be all hands on deck, and we’re going to need to be organized about it across the board,” she said.

Arwady also pointed to the need to convince people the COVID-19 vaccine is safe, if and when one gets approved. “What we can start really laying the groundwork on is how vaccines and medicines in this country are scientifically reviewed and approved,” she said.

“We want to have calm, sober messaging based on science here in Chicago about vaccines, how they work, how we know we can trust them,” Arwady told aldermen. “when will we know a vaccine is something that we can recommend for Chicagoans? And we’ll be working very hard on uptake and trust there.”

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