CHICAGO (CBS) — At a Chicago Latinx health care center where workers received the Moderna COVID vaccine, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said more vaccines will be available to long term care facilities this week going into next week.

“Starting today, we are taking the next step forward in our rollout plan by expanding vaccination distribution to long term care facilities and beginning to distribute vaccination to a central workers at higher risk outpatient locations like Esperanza (Health.) and this is the start of a multi-week distribution process that will roll out over the end of this year, January and into February, as more vaccines become available,” Lightfoot said.

The mayor said this week marks an important milestone in the fight against COVID-19.

“These vaccines are giving us hope that we’ve been waiting for for a very long time, and marking the beginning of the end of this terrible pandemic,” Lightfoot said.

Lightfoot was joined by the head of the Chicago Department of Health, Doctor Allison Arwady, said to date, more than 20,000 vaccines have been given in Chicago. Eight long term care facilities are set to get the COVID vaccine for their residents this week and 26 more facilities will get vaccines later this week and another 28 will get vaccines next week. The vaccines will go to residents and workers at the facilities.

“Right now we are in Phase 1 which means we are vaccinating healthcare workers and long term care facility residents,” Arwady said. “And tomorrow The city is standing up its first central mass vaccination clinic, which will be focused only for outpatient health care workers by appointment.”

Arwady said Chicago received 21,450 Pfizer COVID vaccines that went directly to hospitals. The Moderna vaccine being administered at Esperanza and long term care facilities does not need the ultra cold storage needed for the Pfizer vaccine.

“When we move to Phase B, we start vaccinating older Chicagoans, and then also we’re moving into some of our frontline health frontline essential workers,” Arwady said.

Their comments at a vaccine administration event as health care workers received doses of the Moderna vaccine at Esperanza Health. Lightfoot said the location for the event was chosen specifically to highlight the importance of getting the Latinx community informed about getting a COVID vaccine.

“From the beginning, we have known that COVID-19 disproportionately impacts people of color, and we’ve come to learn our city’s Latinx communities are bearing a very high burden, particularly in a second surge. Tragically, accounting for too many of our COVID-19 cases and deaths,” Lightfoot said. “While the numbers that we track, case rates and percent positivity hospitalizations are in fact improving, portions of the Latinx community, remain in crisis. As I’ve said multiple times before, equity isn’t part of our COVID-19 strategy is our COVID-19 strategy.”

Lightfoot said despite the COVID vaccine doses coming into the city, she reiterated the need for people to protect themselves against the coronavirus.

“It does not mean that the pandemic itself is over. Quite the opposite. We are still months away from widespread community distribution or the vaccine. Definitely. In the meantime, we must continue to do the things that we know will protect us and save lives like wearing a mask and face coverings, socially distancing, washing your hands, really staying home as much as possible,” Lightfoot said.

She added “yes, these vaccines are the light at the end of the tunnel. But we are still very much in that tunnel in the coming days, weeks and months, we will continue to work with community leaders and stakeholders, not only to roll out the vaccine in an equitable manner, but also to ensure that we have the trust of in our communities, especially our Latinx and African American communities.”

(Credit: CVS Health)

One by one, residents at Symphony on 87th are beginning to fight back against COVID-19. The virus hit 186 people at this nursing home, killing more than 30 in the past nine and a half months. Now, dozens are armed with a vaccine dose.

This line of defense isn’t available yet at  Terra Vista of Oakbrook Terrace.”

A glass divider remains up for visits until another barrier is overcome: scheduling.

“We’re waiting to hear from our Walgreens rep,” said Natalie McFarland, executive director at the living facility. She said her place is on the vaccine list. But skilled nursing homes like Symphony are ahead on the calendar.

The silver lining of the wait? More time for vaccine education.

“We’ve had people change from not wanting to receive it, to then consenting,” said McFarland.

Thousands of senior citizens began their journey to COVID-19 immunity on Monday. CVS Health and Walgreens started vaccinating Illinois nursing home residents Monday morning. They’ll hit more than 150,000 people in the next 12 weeks. Johari Martin from CVS Health kicked off the inoculation process in Ohio last week.

She said refrigeration seems to be the trickiest part of their tall task to vaccinate 4.5 million people from long term care facilities nationwide.

“Luckily for us, we have been doing flu shot clinics in these same homes, so it’s really just a changing of the vaccine that we’re getting,” Martin said.

CVS helped nursing home residents at Symphony on 87th become some of the first senior citizens in our state armed with the COVID-fighting tool. But people working and living at places like Koelsh Communities’ Northrbrook Inn will need to wait. Of their more 30 locations nationwide, only one place has a confirmed vaccine date. And it’s not until mid January.

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CBS 2 Chicago Staff