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Coronavirus

5 things to know about Illinois' COVID-19 vaccine plan

IDPH, Gov. Pritzker give a preview of what the vaccine rollout in Illinois will look like

Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike gives the daily numbers of new COVID-19 cases during a press conference to speak about the state surpassing 5 million COVID-19 tests since the beginning of the pandemic at the Memorial Center for Learning and Innovation, Monday, Sept. 21, 2020, in Springfield, Ill. (Justin L. Fowler/The State Journal-Register via AP)
Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike gives the daily numbers of new COVID-19 cases during a press conference to speak about the state surpassing 5 million COVID-19 tests since the beginning of the pandemic at the Memorial Center for Learning and Innovation, Monday, Sept. 21, 2020, in Springfield, Ill. (Justin L. Fowler/The State Journal-Register via AP)

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While the race to develop a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine continues its development at a rapid pace, what the roll-out of the vaccine in Illinois will look like has a flexible structure drafted.

Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker and Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike gave a preview of the vaccine rollout plan during Wednesday's daily COVID-19 news conference.

Here are 5 things you need to know about the early plan:

1) No cost: The vaccine itself will not cost anything to Illinois residents, though healthcare providers may charge a small fee to administer the vaccine, which would be billed to people with health insurance, Ezike said.

2) Herd immunity: 80% of the population will need to get vaccinated in order to reach "herd immunity."

"That’s when we think a sufficient portion of the population would be immune to the disease to prevent spread," Ezike said.

3) Is it safe and effective, even after the federal government approves it? The state will be independently verifying that the vaccine is both safe and effective, in addition to the CDC doing the same.

"Illinois will not distribute a vaccine until we have one that is proven safe and effective," Pritzker said.

4) Who gets it first? Healthcare workers, those on the front lines of treating COVID-19 patients.

"We know there will be limited doses available when we get the first batch," Ezike said.

As production and distribution ramp up, the next batch will go to any healthcare workers that weren't a part of the first batch, critical work infrastructure and those in vulnerable populations.

It will be a constantly evolving process, Ezike said.

5) The vaccine will not be required.

Although 80% of the population will need to be vaccinated in order to reach herd immunity, Ezike made two things clear about the vaccine: It will not be required, and the state will need to address vaccine hesitancy, those who may not want it.

"Vaccinations, once they arrive, will take many, many months, at the minimum, to actually get into the arms of the people of Illinois," Ezike said. "This will unfold in phases, initially with only a small amount of vaccine available."

Ezike acknowledged there was a lot of ground work ahead to deal with people reluctant to get a vaccine once it is available.

What could complicate it?

First, no vaccine has been approved yet. There are 11 vaccines in Phase 3 trials, per the New York Times' coronavirus vaccine tracker. Pfizer, one of the world's largest pharmaceutical companies, has said it could know data about efficacy, but not safety, as early as the end of October. Public health experts have pointed to the first half of 2021 as a reasonable timeline for vaccine distribution once one is approved.

After that, there are questions about manufacturing, distribution and storage.

Pritzker said if the vaccine requires cold storage instead of room temperature storage, that is just one example of how things could get more complex.

With distribution, Pritzker said how the federal government ships the vaccine and whether they are in large-case containers that would then need to be split up to reach smaller communities, is another factor.

Pritzker did say his administration would be transparent about the process.

"It’s adjustable as we go forward and learn more," he said. "You can expect transparency with that, too."

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