Daily file illustration by Catherine Buchaniec
To answer questions about the city’s vaccine distribution plan and to address community vaccine hesitancy, Evanston Mayor Steve Hagerty hosted a virtual “Coronavirus Q&A” Friday alongside local physicians and Evanston Health and Human Services Director Ike Ogbo.
The city released a COVID-19 vaccine-interest form earlier this month to all Evanston residents. When community members become eligible to receive the vaccine, they will receive a phone call or email from the health department to register for an appointment as soon as two days later.
As of Friday, Ogbo said he estimates 40,000 Evanstonians had filled out the form, and at least 10,000 of those people qualified for a Phase 1B vaccination event, which will begin Jan. 25.
The Illinois Department of Public Health defines Phase 1B to include frontline essential workers and those over the age of 64. Evanston plans to prioritize subgroups within Phase 1B, initially providing vaccines to first responders and critical workers before vaccinating those over 85, then over 75 and finally over 65 years old.
While Hagerty urged all residents to complete the survey, unpredictable vaccine distribution patterns mean it is uncertain when each group of residents will be notified of a vaccination event, he said. In the last two weeks, the city has received 1400 and 900 doses.
“We’re not getting the number of vaccines that we are anticipating,” Ogbo said. “We are hoping that in the near future they’ll increase the availability of these vaccines to us so that we can get through the process quicker.”
Hagerty said he is confident that the inauguration of President Joe Biden will expedite vaccine shipments to states and cities across the country.
Since its first vaccination event on Dec. 31, the city has continued to provide vaccinations at the Levy Center. If the city receives greater shipments of vaccines in the future, it plans to open new distribution sites at ETHS, hospitals and Northwestern University. If offered a vaccination opportunity outside of the city, Hagerty said residents can register but must exercise caution.
“Sadly, there are unscrupulous people out there who may try and sell you something that is not the vaccine,” Hagerty said. “Make sure if you’re getting the vaccine, you’re getting it through a trusted source, whether it be the City of Evanston or any city, a pharmacy or your medical professional.”
The Pfizer vaccine requires two doses given three weeks apart, while the Moderna vaccine requires four weeks between two doses. Physicians recommend signing up for a vaccine regardless of whether one has previously contracted the coronavirus. NorthShore University HealthSystem epidemiologist Chethra Muthiah said there is some leeway with the timing of the second dose, but recommends reserving a date and committing to showing up for it.
However, Muthiah said it remains uncertain if vaccinated individuals can asymptomatically spread COVID-19 even after receiving both doses.
Hagerty said the city will require residents to wear masks even after they receive their vaccination while researchers seek to clarify asymptomatic spread.
In terms of the immunity these vaccines provide, AMITA Health Saint Francis Hospital physician Martin Siglin said 50 to 80 percent protection starts 14 days after the first injection, though he said that isn’t adequate. Maximum immunity of 94 to 95 percent occurs one to two weeks after the second dose.
“The fact that it’s 94 to 95 perfect (effective) is another reason to be wearing masks,” Siglin said. “There’s 5 percent that’s still able to get the illness, so masking, social distancing, handwashing, all these different factors still remain important.”
Even with the discovery of new COVID-19 variants in Europe and South America, Siglin said residents should not be concerned with the effectiveness of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.
“(Our) first mission is making sure everybody who works and lives in Evanston is vaccinated,” Hagerty said. “Our objective is when we get our hands on the vaccines, we are setting up points of distribution events to get these vaccines into the arms of our residents so we can get people protected and make our communities safe.”
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