COVID-19 vaccines are safe, effective Illinois officials say

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Gov. JB Pritzker answers questions from the media about the state response to COVID-19 during a news conference in the governor's office in Springfield on March 5.

The public should consider COVID-19 vaccines that soon could be on their way to Illinois safe and effective, Gov. JB Pritzker and the state’s top doctor said Tuesday.

“There’s a lot of work to do," Dr. Ngozi Ezike, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, said at a news conference with the governor by her side.

“Skepticism exists,” she said. But she said the vaccine will be a “key weapon in our arsenal,” along with wearing masks and social distancing, to get the COVID-19 pandemic under control.

She and Pritzker said there have been years of federally funded research on coronaviruses, such as the one that causes SARS and the one that now causes COVID-19, that led to the vaccines close to federal approval.

HSHS St. John’s Hospital in Springfield has been designated as one of 10 regional hospital sites that will act as distribution hubs for initial shipments of vaccine beginning next week and potentially beyond.

The Sangamon County Department of Public Health is ready, as well, to distribute vaccine to the general public whenever it receives shipments, according to department director Gail O’Neill. The department, at 3833 South Grand Ave. E in Springfield, has its own ultra-cold freezer — equipment needed to store the Pfizer vaccine that could become the first COVID-19 vaccine Thursday to receive federal approval.

This illustration reveals ultrastructural morphology exhibited by the novel coronavirus, COVID-19.

“We’ve been prepared for quite some time,” O’Neill said.

The former Springfield Department of Public Health bought the approximately 9-foot-tall freezer a year or two after the 2001 terrorist attacks in New York and suburban Washington, D.C., with federal money to prepare for potential bioterrorism threats, she said.

The freezer, which could store thousands of doses of COVID-19 vaccine, was transferred to its current location when the city health department merged with the county health department 10 years ago, O’Neill said.

The department never needed to use the freezer but has maintained the 20-year-old equipment, she said. The freezer is in fine working order and able to maintain temperatures up to minus-123 degrees, she said.

The department also has used state funding to hire an additional 30 part-time registered nurses to administer COVID-19 vaccinations and conduct contact tracing to track the virus’s spread, she said.

Front-line health care workers and nursing home residents are scheduled to be offered the vaccine first, followed by others at higher risk of COVID-19-related medical complications. For now, it’s likely that only people 18 and older will be offered vaccine because the vaccine hasn’t been tested on children yet, Ezike said.

“Without vaccination, this pandemic will extend longer than it needs to,” she said. “Let’s fight back and let’s do what it takes to get us to the end sooner.”

She added it will take months to roll out the vaccine to priority groups and even longer for the general public because of limited supplies in the U.S. "I ask that people be patient. We can only allocate the vaccine that we’re actually given, so we’re prioritizing those at greatest risk of exposure and severe illness. We are hoping for everyone to get this vaccine in the coming year.”

The state health department has decided to designate the first shipments of vaccine shipments to health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities in the 50 counties with the highest COVID-19-related death rates.

Ezike indicated the state may allow workers in hospitals that care for residents of those 50 counties — such as St. John’s and Memorial Medical Center in Springfield and OSF HealthCare Saint Francis Medical Center in Peoria — to receive some of the first doses even though the counties where those hospitals are located aren’t among the 50 with the highest death rates.

Pritzker said the Pfizer vaccine and one developed by the company Moderna, which could receive federal approval soon after Pfizer, reported 94% to 95% effectiveness rates.

The governor said the federal Food and Drug Administration, which is evaluating the results from clinical trials of COVID-19 vaccines, “proudly considers itself to have the safest, most thorough review processes in the world, and the world views the FDA in that way, too.”

Pritzker said Illinois has its own panel of medical experts that will review COVID-19 vaccines after FDA approval before distribution can begin.

Ezike and Pritzker said the state health department is beginning an outreach effort to convince people the vaccine is safe contrary to some internet rumors and anti-vaccine movement claims.

Ezike said special efforts will be made in the Black community through churches and Urban League chapters to address the mistrust of government and the health care industry based on legitimate abuses such as the Tuskegee experiment that intentionally infected Black men with syphilis without their knowledge from 1932 to 1972.

“There are many examples where government has done wrong by Black people specifically,” she said. “We can give the appropriate information, we can answer questions, dispel the things that are clear myths, and work on the real issues that are still barriers.”

Ezike said the state is considering allowing dentists, student nurses, and medical students to help give COVID-19 shots to speed distribution.

Ezike said more than 800,000 people in Illinois have tested positive for COVID-19 as of Tuesday — a milestone that represents a doubling of cases in slightly more than one month.

The department also said 145 people with COVID-19 died in the past day or so. Tuesday’s count returned the state to triple-digit daily deaths after two days when deaths totaled 74 and 89, respectively. Dec. 2 marked the pandemic’s all-time daily high of 238 deaths in Illinois.

There were 7,910 new cases reported Tuesday.

State officials have said positive test results later this week and next week could indicate whether Thanksgiving gatherings led to more transmission of the virus that causes COVID-19.

Total positive cases were 804,174, compared with 402,087 total cases as of Oct. 30, according to the state health department.

As of Monday night, 5,199 people in Illinois were hospitalized with COVID-19. Of those, 1,071 patients were in intensive-care units, and 626 were on ventilators, state health officials said.

Health-related questions about COVID-19 can be answered through the state’s hotline at (800) 889-3931 or via email at dph.sick@illinois.gov.

Contact Dean Olsen: dolsen@gannett.com; (217) 836-1068; twitter.com/DeanOlsenSJR.

via The State Journal-Register https://www.sj-r.com

December 9, 2020 at 06:42AM

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