COVID-19 vaccination begins at UChicago Medicine

Man in a mask receiving a COVID vaccination injection from a female nurse

The University of Chicago Medicine began inoculating front-line staff against the virus that causes COVID-19 today following delivery of 1,950 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine from the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH).

A diverse group of front-line employees — including a resident physician, a pulmonologist, a nuclear medicine technician, an operating room technician, a nurse manager and a radiation oncology patient service representative — were in the first group to get vaccinated.

“COVID-19 has been such a wrecking ball,” said Howard J. Halpern, MD, PhD, a radiation oncologist. “To find the possibility at this point, the dear hope this is going to pass us by finally, is a monumental experience. This is historically important. This vaccine is the first step, a step I want us all to take.”

More than 1,100 healthcare personnel have already been scheduled for vaccination appointments through Sunday.

The medical center has been preparing for this historic moment for weeks. Hundreds of individuals across the medical campus have worked long hours to plan for every detail — ranging from an equitable distribution strategy and a MyChart registration system to storage planning and vaccination education. These efforts involved the collaboration of teams across the enterprise, including ambulatory care, pharmacy, medical staff, IT, supply chain, project management, human resources, Pritzker School of Medicine, legal, risk management, operational excellence, and facilities and support services.

In addition, through a training program developed by the nurse education team, roughly 200 nurses, pharmacists, and medical and pharmacy students will be serving as vaccinators, covering shifts from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week. With 10 vaccination stations, the team has the ability to vaccinate up to 1,000 individuals per day.

The medical center’s internal allocation process divides its workforce into three waves. Within each wave, employees with high-risk health conditions are being prioritized. When there are more individuals in a wave than available vaccines, a lottery system within each group will be used to determine when employees are eligible.

  • Wave 1: Clinicians and support staff with direct patient contact roles, including those who provide care within six feet of patients or who handle infectious materials. About 9,500 people are eligible in Wave 1, which will take several weeks to complete.
  • Wave 2: Employees who are working in-person at UChicago Medicine patient care facilities but who have no direct patient contact. About 1,500 people are eligible in Wave 2.
  • Wave 3: Workers who are currently remote or who work in non-clinical off-site locations. About 3,900 people are eligible in Wave 3.

“While the focus is on inoculating healthcare workers per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) vaccine allocation strategy, we have begun preparations to serve as a distribution site when the vaccine becomes more widely available,” said Tom Jackiewicz, president of the Medical Center. “With an anticipated eventual increase in vaccine supply in the weeks and months ahead and subject to CDC and CDPH guidelines, we plan to do our part to vaccinate patients, the broader University and the South Side community.”

To support the next phase of vaccinations, UChicago Medicine has secured enough ultra-cold freezer storage for up to 89,700 doses of the Pfizer vaccine and an equal amount of freezer space for the Moderna vaccine, once the FDA authorizes it for emergency use. It also has registered nine vaccination sites with CDPH and can add locations as needed, and its Ingalls Memorial Hospital in Harvey is working with the Illinois Department of Public Health on system-wide vaccine distribution. Employee vaccination at Ingalls began Thursday as well. In addition, it will be working closely with local public health officials to develop a community engagement and vaccination plan that will follow CDC and CDPH guidance, which is expected in the coming days.