ROCKFORD — A COVID-19 vaccine could arrive in the stateline in a matter of weeks, the head of the Winnebago County Health Department announced Wednesday.
“You’ve all been hearing about the vaccine,” Dr. Sandra Martell said. “And one of the things we’ve said is that we are going to get out of this pandemic when we have strong therapeutics–medicines that will work–and a vaccine. So, we started planning for a vaccine even before schools even started. We started in August for vaccinations (for the) population of Winnebago County.”
Once a vaccine clears the Federal Drug Administration and arrives in Illinois, it will be sent to the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Pharmacy. The school will lead the local distribution, which could start by mid-December.
Martell said the vaccine will be administered in three phases. Those vaccinated in Phase 1 will be Winnebago County’s 14,000 first responders and frontline workers. The vulnerable and at-risk populations at nursing homes, group homes, and jails will be offered vaccines in Phase 2. They will be available to the general public in Phase 3.
The vaccine itself will be free, although insurers may charge a fee.
It is not clear which vaccine will be available first. Pfizer, Moderna and Astra-Zeneca have each developed one they claim to be at least 90-percent effective. Each company is close to submitting its vaccine to the FDA, which announced Tuesday that distribution could begin within 24 hours of approval.
Meanwhile, Winnebago County’s seven-day test-positivity rate continued to drop Wednesday, falling to 15.8%. Tuesday’s positivity rate was 16.1%.
Statewide, the seven-day test-positivity rate between Nov. 18 and Nov. 24 was 12.2%. Two weeks ago it was 13.6%.
Hospitalizations are also holding steady ahead of the Thanksgiving weekend. As of Wednesday, there were 6,133 COVID-related hospitalizations across the state. Of those, 1,208 patients were in the ICU and 679 patients were on ventilators. As of Tuesday, there were 6,134 people in the hospital, 1,203 in the ICU and 668 patients on ventilators.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Wednesday that while his goal is to remove Tier 3 mitigations before the December holidays, it is up to Illinoisans whether that will happen. The governor encouraged residents to put off holiday travel this week, saying even though it’s the day before Thanksgiving, it’s not too late to change plans. He also urged those who insist on visiting groups outside their own households over the weekend to wear masks and practice social distancing.
“My hope, my goal is sooner rather than later for us to get out of Tier 3 resurgence mitigations,” the governor said. “But, again, it will be dependent upon metrics, not a timeframe. We’ve sent out the metrics for reducing mitigations on a regional basis from Tier 3 to Tier 2, to Tier 2 to Tier 1, and then back to the Phase 4 mitigations.”
For a region to move out of Tier 3, it must see a less-than 12-percent test positivity average for three consecutive days, greater than 20-percent available intensive care unit (ICU) and hospital bed availability for three consecutive days, and declining seven-day hospitalizations average in seven out of the last 10 days.