On Tuesday, the city administered its first doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine to healthcare workers at Loretto Hospital in Austin, 645 S. Central Ave. in Austin. 

For many medical professionals and public health experts, these initial inoculations have presented signs of hope, but they added that it could be a year before the vaccine is prevalent enough throughout the population to effectively put an end to the pandemic.  

Considering recent developments, we’ve put together a helpful FAQ for our readers who may be interested in the current status of the COVID-19 pandemic and some next steps with respect to the vaccine.  

Most of the information presented was pulled from public data compiled by the city of Chicago and a COVID-19 Vaccine Town Hall hosted virtually on Dec. 17 by Dr. Allison Arwady, the director of the Chicago Department of Public Health.  

How many COVID-19 cases are we talking about? 

Between March 1 and Dec. 17 in Chicago, there have been 187,416 confirmed COVID-19 cases, 2,181,367 tests performed and 3,850 deaths, according to public data available at the city’s COVID Dashboard. You can access the Dashboard here

During that time, the virus has disproportionately affected Black and Brown Chicagoans. Blacks comprised 32,695 confirmed cases, 352,992 tests and 1,527 deaths. Meaning, Blacks comprised roughly 40 percent of the city’s total COVID-19 deaths. 

Latinx people comprised 66,700 confirmed cases, 359,354 tests and 1,308 deaths, or roughly 34 percent of the city’s total COVID-19 deaths.  

Non-Latinx whites comprised 32,239 confirmed cases, 443,141 tests and 797 deaths, or around 21 percent of the city’s total COVID-19 deaths. 

The city has also released cumulative data by zip code. The four main zip codes that cover Austin, North Lawndale and West Garfield Park include: 60644, 60651, 60624 and 60612. 

In 60644, between March 1 and Dec. 12, there were 2,879 confirmed cases, 33,239 tests performed and 102 deaths. 

In 60651, there were 5,390 confirmed cases, 40,710 tests performed and 99 deaths during that time period. 

In 60624, there were 2,262 confirmed cases, 21,965 tests performed and 46 deaths during that time period. 

And In 60612, there were 2,441 confirmed cases, 34,185 tests performed and 47 deaths during that time period. 

How full are hospital ICU’s near me? 

The New York Times recently published an interactive map based on U.S. Department of Health and Human Services data that shows Intensive Care Unit capacity for hospitals across the country. 

According to the data, Loretto Hospital in Austin has an ICU occupancy of 44 percent, with six COVID-19 patients and nine available ICU beds. 

Mt. Sinai Health Hospital Medical Center in North Lawndale has an ICU occupancy of 100 percent, with 34 COVID-19 patients and no available ICU beds. 

Saint Anthony Hospital in North Lawndale has an ICU occupancy of 57 percent, with 36 COVID-19 patients and 15 available ICU beds. 

Click here to see the New York Times interactive map.

How many vaccine doses does Chicago have? 

The city currently has 23,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine, which it will reserve for the city’s approximately health care workers. According to Arwady, the Moderna vaccine is currently being considered for approval.  

Should I worry about getting an allergic reaction to the vaccine? 

According to Arwady, there were two people in the United Kingdom and one person in Alaska who had severe allergic reactions after receiving the vaccine. 

“That’s a big deal when that happens,” Arwady said. “People who have a history of severe allergic reactions often will carry an EpiPen [an epinephrine injection].” 

Arwady recommended that people who have severe allergies should consult their doctor about the vaccine, but she emphasized that “there’s not been a recommendation that you should not get vaccinated” for those with only seasonal allergies or pet allergies. 

Anyone who is vaccinated is typically monitored for 15 to 30 minutes. They’re also questioned and counseled about their medical history. Severe allergic reactions come within the first few minutes after the vaccine is administered, she said. 

“We expect that to happen to” a small amount of people after vaccination, Arwady said, referencing allergic reactions. “It’s something we prepare for to be rare. It’s not a reason to be afraid of the vaccine.” 

Are there differences between the Pfizer and Modern vaccines? 

“There are a few differences between these vaccines, but not very big ones … based on what I’ve read,” Arwady said. Federal and local health experts are constantly reviewing the vaccines, she said, “but at the highest level, they’re very similar.” 

The main difference, she explained, is how the vaccines are stored. The two companies figured out ways to put the essential molecule that’s key to the vaccine stable. 

“The Pfizer vaccine has to be kept in ultra-cold temperatures, whereas the Moderna vaccine … has to be frozen, but not ultra-cold, and that’s very good news,” she said. “So, we expect to use the Moderna vaccine in Chicago in our long-term care facilities and outpatient facilities that are less likely to have ultra-cold [equipment] and the Pfizer vaccine” will be primarily in facilities with ultra-cold equipment.  

“The other major difference is, in the trials, the Pfizer vaccine requires two doses 21 days apart and the Moderna vaccine requires two doses 28 days apart,” she said. “It will be important that people get their second dose of vaccine with the same manufacturer.” 

If you have asthma, can you take the vaccine? And what are some of the side effects?

“The answer is yes,” Arwady said, adding that the vaccine “doesn’t have any COVID-19 virus in it.” 

The most side-effects have been a sore arm while some people have reported flu-like symptoms, such as chills and muscle aches. 

“That is the process of your immune system learning what COVID looks like and learning how to protect you against COVID without ever making you sick,” she said. 

“In the trials,” she said, there were people who had underlying medical conditions, but the vaccine had similar effectiveness across people with and without underlying conditions and “across race and ethnicity groups, and across age groups.”  

Arwady added that she recommends someone with asthma or other underlying conditions take the vaccine to improve the risk-benefit ratio. So, for someone with underlying conditions, it’s riskier not to get the vaccine than to get it, she explained. 

How long will the vaccine stay effective?  

“We don’t know yet, is the bottom line,” Arwady said. In the trials, people were followed for only two months, but added that vaccine experts are hopeful that it has “fairly long-lasting immunity.” 

 See Dr. Arwady’s full virtual vaccine town hall by clicking here