With the first shipment of a new coronavirus vaccine to Illinois possibly just days away, Gov. J.B. Pritzker and the state’s top public health official on Tuesday sought to allay fears about the safety of an immunization developed under intense pressure on an expedited schedule.
Although it was developed and tested in a matter of months, the vaccine from Pfizer and BioNTech, which could receive emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration soon after an advisory panel meets Thursday, is based on decades of research on coronaviruses and has been thoroughly reviewed by teams of experts, Pritzker said at his daily COVID-19 briefing.
The governor’s remarks came the same day the FDA released its initial review of data on the Pfizer vaccine and as the immunizations began in the United Kingdom. While Pfizer’s own study is still in progress, the FDA analysis of the company’s data found that, so far, the vaccine appears safe and more than 90% effective.
Still, Illinois, like other states, has its own panel of experts reviewing the FDA’s analysis, Pritzker said.
“We all want to make sure this vaccine is safe, and additional sets of eyes on the evidence can only be helpful,” he said.
Pending FDA authorization later this week, the state expects to receive a shipment of 109,000 doses of the vaccine sometime next week, although it’s possible that could come as soon as the weekend, Pritzker said.
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A second vaccine, produced by Moderna, is scheduled for possible emergency use authorization by the FDA on Dec. 17.
The University of Illinois at Chicago participated in the clinical trial for that vaccine, and trial participant Bonnie Blue, a 68-year-old with severe asthma, spoke via video at the governor’s briefing.
“For me to take part in this trial was a huge risk, a risk that my family and friends were not happy that I was facing,” said Blue, a former HIV case manager at Provident Hospital in Chicago. She doesn’t know yet whether she was given the actual vaccine or a placebo as part of the trial.
While she initially thought she’d wait a year or two before getting a newly developed vaccine, Blue said she was motivated to participate in the trial by the growing number of people in Illinois who’ve died from COVID-19.
“Please take it,” she said. “Do your research; find out more about it; don’t just take my word for it.”
Despite the words of encouragement, it will be many months before most Illinois residents will be able to get vaccinated.
The state’s initial shipment of the Pfizer vaccine from the federal government will go to health care workers and long-term care residents in the 50 counties with the highest per capita death rates from the virus. Subsequent allotments, which are expected to be much larger, also will go to those groups until the vaccine is more widely available.
Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said her agency is working with organizations across the state to make the virus as accessible as possible once the state has enough doses to immunize anyone who wants it. That includes plans in the works for drive-thru vaccination clinics, she said.
As state and local officials prepare for the vaccine’s arrival, Illinois continues to see some positive trends in its fight against the pandemic compared with the past month, when cases, hospitalizations and deaths were rising rapidly, though officials still are bracing for a possible post-Thanksgiving spike.
State health officials reported 7,910 new confirmed and probable cases Tuesday, bringing the total number COVID-19 cases statewide to 804,174 since the pandemic began.
The number of new COVID-19 cases as a share of total tests reached an average of 9.9% for the week ending Monday, the first time the statewide case positivity rate has fallen below 10% since the week ending Nov. 5. The average reached a high of 13.2% on Nov. 12.
The seven-day average of new confirmed and probable cases of the coronavirus now has remained below 10,000 for 11 straight days, with the average standing at 9,333 cases per day as of Tuesday. The average peaked at 12,384 daily cases during the week ending Nov. 16.
But the state is still experiencing the most dire consequences of the fall surge, with 145 more fatalities reported Tuesday, bringing the statewide death toll to 13,487 since the first reported casualty in March. Illinois is averaging 155 deaths per day over the past week, well above the spring peak of 118 deaths per day in mid-May. A record average has been set each of the past six days.
The Associated Press contributed.