UChicago Medicine is making plans for the distribution of vaccines once federal regulators give the final go-ahead for 5- to 11-year-olds to get immunized against COVID-19.
In a late-October interview, pediatric epidemiologist Dr. Daniel Johnson said the hospital system was anticipating vaccine shipments towards the end of this week, most likely Thursday, with the beginning of vaccine administration on Saturday. They hope to give out 100 to 125 shots that day before ramping up to 175 to 200 a day on the weekend clinics.
"That's our goal," he said. "In fact, we've put in place extra hours on both Saturday and Sunday to do vaccination. It's going to be in the Comer Clinic, on the fourth floor of Comer, in the outpatient area. There will be an expectation that people make appointments by calling into the COVID vaccine line, 773-834-8221. They can call anytime now during normal work hours, and they can then schedule an appointment to bring in their child."
If to-be-vaccinated children have older unvaccinated siblings, or if parents or guardians are unvaccinated, the whole family can get their shots together.
"We're trying to provide a family clinic model on the Saturdays and Sundays that we'll be doing this, and we expect to continue doing the Saturday and Sunday sessions for the coming weeks," Johnson said. "Because we'll have to do first and second doses, we will have some limitations on the availability because we'll be doing both doses"
The clinic will also be open during weekdays for families with a preexisting relationship with UChicago Medicine. Vaccines for 5- to 11-year-olds are also to be available at pharmacies and other pediatricians' offices.
"The city and state have been working with pharmacies as well as with provider offices and locations. We all anticipate that there will be the availability of vaccine at a large number of locations," Johnson said. "And unlike the original rollout of the adult vaccine, there appears to be plenty of doses available. According to Pfizer, there are doses available for every child in the United States between the ages of 5 and 11."
It will unfortunately not be the case that every child between those ages will immediately line up for shots, however, given intransigent vaccine hesitation and refusal in this country that has led the U.S. to fall far behind other highly developed nations in vaccinating its eligible population, resulting in a wholly unnecessary degree of suffering and death.
Johnson pointed to a survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation that suggests that at least two-thirds of families plan on vaccinating their newly eligible young children. About one third of them say they will do it as soon as possible. Another third have indicated a wait-and-see, or delayed, approach towards COVID-19 vaccination.
"What I would advise is for those who are adopting a watchful waiting approach that they not wait too long, because the longer they wait, the longer it is the children can take advantage of the vaccine," said Johnson. "So far the data is very reassuring. The information that we have is that the side effect profile is similar to what we've seen in adults and children ages 12 through 18."
In fact, 5- through 11-year-olds who have already been vaccinated tend to have milder vaccine side effects than older people, Johnson said, perhaps because the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine doses that they are getting are smaller than those older people get. The side effects tend to go away within 48 hours and are easy to treat with over-the-counter drugs like Tylenol or ibuprofen.
He expressed concerns about whether the vaccines can affect the heart, specifically through myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle) and pericarditis (inflammation of the heart's outer lining). Johnson said there is just not good information yet about these side effects, but there is good information about older children being vaccinated and having a heart complication. One in 10,000 do. With children who get COVID-19, around one in 100 have an impact on their heart, and the disease appears to cause a longer-term impact than the vaccine causes.
"This suggests that it's much safer to get the vaccine than it is to get COVID," he said. "And given that the virus is never going away — this will be with us for, likely, all eternity — the value of getting vaccinated is likely very high in order to prevent the risk of harm to a child's heart."
The Pfizer vaccine's efficacy for young children appears to be around 90%, which Johnson said is spectacular.
He also recalled the polio vaccine, which came out in 1955, three years after the U.S.'s worst outbreak, in which 58,000 were infected. The nation managed to eradicate the disease in 1979, which is, of course, easier to do with a non-widespread respiratory virus (the polio vaccine is 99% effective). Chicago Public Schools continues to require its students get vaccinated against polio.
Poliovirus spreads through the fecal-oral route (public pools were shut down during outbreaks), first infecting the guts and sometimes passing over to the central nervous system. After mass vaccinations, gone were infections that could cause paralysis, causing limps or, at worst, treatment with an iron lung.
"It was called 'the people's vaccine.' It really allowed life to get back to a much more normal pattern, because people didn't have to worry as much about these huge polio outbreaks," Johnson said. "To me, the COVID vaccine is the people's vaccine, because it will allow children as well as the rest of us to be able to get back to life more normally as we increase the number of people who are vaccinated.
"Even though the efficacy of the vaccine has declined a little bit over time, it is just a small amount. We went from an efficacy of 90-95% down to an efficacy of around 80%. You know, it's just not a huge difference. And the other thing that we're seeing is that the people who are vaccinated shed virus a shorter time than the people who are not vaccinated, and that translates to them being less contagious. There are a lot of reasons why vaccination makes a difference for the individual and the community."
The more immune people there are, the more COVID-19 will look like annual influenza, Johnson assumes; that is, a disease risk that society accepts. It remains to see with what frequency people will need boosters, but he thinks "the overwhelming majority of the population" will not need a booster except for every 18-24 months. "Maybe we'll get lucky and it'll be even longer," he said.
Flu shots will also be available at UChicago Medicine. COVID-19 vaccines are free; flu shots are typically covered by health care coverage of some kind. UChicago Medicine does offer financial assistance for care; information is at 773-702-6664 or OPSFinancialCounseling@uchospitals.edu.
There was one reported case of COVID-19 at Ariel Community Academy, 1119 E. 46th St., between Oct. 24-30 but no isolated individuals. There was one reported case at Kozminski Community Academy, 936 E 54th St., and up to 53 isolated individuals. There were seven reported cases at Ray School, 5631 S, Kimbark Ave., and up to 112 isolated individuals.
There was one reported case at Kenwood Academy, 5015 S. Blackstone Ave., and up to 24 isolated individuals. The Herald is reporting any cases at Chicago Public Schools and quarantines only in the event that they were preceded by new cases.
Mid-South Side lakefront ZIP codes saw positivities below 2% for the week of Oct. 17-23. Out of all the city’s community areas, Washington Park saw the biggest percentage jump in the number of people getting their first shot of vaccine over that week, 0.9% to 49.6%.
- In 60653, covering North Kenwood and Oakland, 23 people tested positive for COVID-19 out of 1,555 tests conducted — a 1.8% positivity — down from 33 the week before, and no one, down from one person the week before. The number of tests performed increased 3%.
- In 60615, covering northern Hyde Park, southern Kenwood and northern Washington Park, 18 people tested positive out of 2,106 tests, down from 26 — a 1.1% positivity — and no one died, the same as the week before. The number of tests rose 11%.
- In 60637, covering southern Hyde Park, southern Washington Park and Woodlawn, 46 people tested positive out of 3,095 tests, up from 38 — a 1.6% positivity — and no one died, the same as the week before. The number of tests rose 10%
- In 60649, South Shore, 23 people tested positive out of 2,501 tests — a 1% positivity — down from 30, and no one died, down from one person the week before. The number of tests performed dropped 8%.
- In Hyde Park, 74.2% of the population aged 12 and older is fully vaccinated, up 0.4% from the week before.
- In Kenwood, 63.2% of the eligible population is fully vaccinated, up 0.5%.
- In Woodlawn, 46.2% of the eligible population is fully vaccinated, up 0.5%.
- In Washington Park, 41.6% of the eligible population is fully vaccinated, up 0.8%.
- In Oakland, 54% of the eligible population is fully vaccinated, up 0.5%.
- In South Shore, 48.1% of the eligible population is fully vaccinated, up 0.5%.
- In Douglas, 54.3% of the eligible population is fully vaccinated, up 0.5%.
The city's website for COVID-19 testing information is chi.gov/covidtesting. The city's website for vaccine information is chicago.gov/covidvax. The federal government’s vaccine information website is vaccines.gov. City operators are available at 312-746-4835 to handle any questions regarding the vaccine.
Up to 10 people at once can be vaccinated at their homes by appointment through the Protect Chicago at Home program; hours are weekdays, 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Anyone who gets vaccinated (both the Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are available) will receive $25 Visa gift cards, which can be used anywhere Visa is accepted. More information is at 312-746-4835 or chicago.gov/athome.
Neighborhood pharmacies, including Katsaros Pharmacy, 1521 E. 53rd St., are offering the vaccine by appointment and on a walk-in basis. Appointments at Katsaros are available online at katsarospharmacy.com.
Howard Brown Health is offering the Pfizer vaccine at its Hyde Park clinic, 1525 E. 55th St., with sign up at 773-388-1600. UChicago Medicine is, again, vaccinating everyone, regardless of patient status. The scheduling number is 1-888-824-0200.
The Cook County government is offering sign-up for vaccines at vaccine.cookcountyil.gov.