To: Members of the University Community
From: Ka Yee C. Lee, Provost
Subject: Update on Vaccination Guidelines and Planning
Date: January 14, 2021
Federal and local public health authorities earlier this week made important revisions to the guidelines that will determine the prioritization of access to COVID-19 vaccines. These changes may have an impact on when members of our University community will have access to the vaccines. The vaccine rollout is changing rapidly and is likely to require regular updates as the situation evolves. A group of University leaders is working on vaccine allocation processes and operational procedures in keeping with the latest guidelines and with expert guidance from the University of Chicago Medicine (UCM), and we will communicate more about those plans soon. Our priority is to contribute to the national goal of widespread COVID-19 vaccination in a manner that is fair and efficient, following the latest guidelines.
Phases of Vaccine Access
When President Zimmer and I wrote to campus on January 4, federal guidelines indicated that the education sector, including higher education employees, would likely have access to vaccinations as part of Phase 1b of vaccine distribution. States have authority to implement these guidelines as they deem appropriate, and the University and UCM work directly with the Chicago Department of Public Health as we implement guidelines. Updates made this week to the Illinois vaccination plan indicate that most higher education employees will not have access to vaccines in Phase 1b. Higher education employees may be included in Phase 1c, though state and city plans for that phase are still under development. Although the timing of each phase is not certain, the time needed to implement Phase 1b for eligible individuals could delay the University’s ability to deliver vaccines to employees by weeks or months.
Some members of the University of Chicago community are included in the new Illinois plans for Phase 1b, including N-12 teachers and administrative staff, people age 65 and older, and potentially other frontline workers. As a result, most teachers and staff at the Laboratory Schools and the University Charter School should have access to vaccines soon. Vaccination groups in Phase 1b are expected to include many UCM patients over age 65, including eligible people from South Side communities and eligible emeriti faculty. We will share more information about this next phase as it becomes available.
Here is an outline of Illinois’ vaccine distribution plan under the latest changes:
Phase 1a (started mid-December): Healthcare personnel with the potential for direct or indirect exposure to patients or infectious materials; long-term care facility residents
Phase 1b (expected to begin soon): People ages 65 and older; frontline essential workers (e.g. first responders, N-12 teachers and staff, food and agriculture workers, postal workers, correctional facility inmates and staff, manufacturing workers, grocery workers, public transit workers, shelters/ adult day care)
Phase 1c (in planning stages, with further updates expected): People ages 16-64 with underlying conditions; other essential workers (though we are awaiting further updates by the state, this phase could include University employees who have not yet been vaccinated)
Phase 2 (early planning stages): Rest of the population ages 16 and up
Methods of Vaccine Distribution
During Phase 1a, personnel connected with UCM and unaffiliated health care personnel working in the City of Chicago have received vaccinations through appointments at the medical center. The means of access during Phase 1b may vary by population; we should have more information in the next two weeks about how people who are eligible for Phase 1b can access vaccinations. The University is planning to set up an on-campus vaccination clinic where many University employees will be able to be vaccinated. More information will be communicated after the timing and processes are finalized. We are encouraged by the experience of UCM thus far in distributing vaccines efficiently to eligible employees. As anticipated, some UCM employees have reported mild-to-moderate side effects caused by the immune response to the vaccine. In clinical trials, the Pfizer vaccine being used has been found to be safe and 94-95% effective.
Although some aspects of the vaccine rollout are becoming clearer, I know there are still many unanswered questions, including when the evolving public health guidelines will allow for vaccination of our students. We continue to follow the situation very closely and will provide regular updates as new information becomes available. We are working to ensure that members of our broader community as well as faculty, staff, and students have access to the vaccine as soon as possible. Thank you for your patience as we continue preparations for the next phases of our vaccination efforts.