- Associated Press - Thursday, December 10, 2020

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) - As Illinois prepares to receive the first doses of vaccine to combat the coronavirus pandemic, state officials on Thursday urged residents to take the shots when they become available.

Outside advisers to the Food and Drug Administration convened Thursday, the penultimate step to federal approval of the Pfizer vaccine. Experts expect inoculations to begin within days. Illinois is looking for shipments to arrive as early as next week.

“I want people to know that I will be getting the vaccine when it’s my turn and when it’s available and after approval by the FDA …,” Dr. Ngozi Ezike, state public health director, said at Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s daily COVID-19 briefing in Chicago. “I do trust in vaccines and trust in the development and approval system that has been created in this country, and from what is known, the safety and the efficacy of the vaccine has been evaluated.”

She was reacting to surveys, such as one this week by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, showing that up to half of U.S. respondents are wary of the vaccine or don’t plan to get it. Among those who do, some will experience side effects such as fever, headache and “general malaise,” Ezike said this week.

It will be months before there’s widespread inoculation in Illinois. Ezike urged vigilance until then to avoid spreading the virus, as the nation’s death toll topped 3,000 for the first time Thursday.

In Illinois, there were 196 fatalities, the third-highest total. With deaths hitting the 13,000 mark just six days ago, the total stands at 13,861. Newly confirmed cases Thursday totaled 11,101, the first time new cases exceeded 10,000 since Dec. 4. Overall, there have been 823,531 COVID-19 infections confirmed.

Illinois’ first vaccine shipment should be 109,000 doses, enough for 54,500 people because the Pfizer product requires two shots three weeks apart. The federal government calls for hospital health care and support staff to be first in line, along with nursing home residents. That so-called Phase 1a includes 764,000 people.

The shipments will arrive at 10 “regional hub” hospitals across the state and Ezike confirmed that health staff at the hubs will be among the first to be inoculated.

Chicago will receive 23,000 doses and 86,000 will be distributed around the rest of the state based counties with the highest death rates.

When announced last week, that left in doubt the eligibility of staff at three hub hospitals not among the top 50 hardest hit. That would mean staff members in some cases distributing vaccine to counties that have no hospitals and whose COVID-19 patients the hub centers treat.

Asked Thursday, Ezike confirmed that as many as eight of the top 50 counties don’t have hospitals and that officials in them have agreed to share the vaccines with the hub facilities or the hospitals responsible for treating their COVID patients.

“We have reached out to every single one of those counties to work on the appropriate reallocation of that vaccine, “ Ezike said, ”whether it’s to the hospital that those residents of that county would seek their care at or … to ensure that all the regional hubs get some vaccines.”


Follow Political Writer John O’Connor at https://twitter.com/apoconnor

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