COVID-19 Vaccine: A Community Response

Vaccine Roll Out and How People in Chicago Have Responded to the Cure for COVID-19

By Ewa Lapcyznska and Grace Lysell

Both Moderna and Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines utilize mRNA to fight the virus. -Wikimedia Commons

Muriel Loftus was born in 1929 and has spent the majority of her adult life in the Canaryville neighborhood, located on the South Side of Chicago, not too far from Guaranteed Rate Field.

At 92, Loftus has seen many dangerous diseases come and go before COVID-19 arrived. As a young girl, Loftus remembered chickenpox outbreaks, tuberculosis, and polio, all of which are now eradicated, thanks to life-saving vaccines.

“Like when I was young, polio was a very rapid problem. Today it’s nonexistent because of research and medicine. People had to be in iron lungs in order to breathe,” Loftus said. “There was another epidemic of tuberculosis, which is a lung disease as well. My aunt had it and she had to be in the hospital off and on because of it. They did find a vaccine to help eradicate tuberculosis. You do get injections for TB right now.”

On Dec. 11, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the first vaccine, Pfizer’s, against COVID-19 for emergency use. This came after nearly 9 months of the rapid spread of the virus. Researchers worked tirelessly to develop a vaccine that would protect against the dangerous and potentially lethal effects of the virus.

Since that day the United States has struggled to adequately provide vaccines to those who need them. Communities within and surrounding Chicago have been no exception, data show.

According to City of Chicago Health Data, as of April 28, 1,921,949 doses have been administered to Chicago residents, making only 29.5% of the population fully vaccinated against the novel coronavirus.

Stacy Arriola is the current volunteer coordinator at UIHealth’s Credit Union One vaccine clinic. Arriola interacts with and supports all aspects of the vaccine process, from coordinating volunteer schedules to administering vaccines. Based on the interactions she has with the community, logistical problems appear to have been the biggest challenge in vaccinating Chicago residents.

“I think the biggest roadblock is navigating through all the different options on where you can receive the vaccine in the Chicago area and how to schedule an appointment,” Arriola said.

There have been multiple pharmacies and hospitals citywide that joined the fight against COVID-19 by now offering vaccines. Most of these locations are by appointment but some walk-ins are welcome if there are extra vaccines available or open schedules. The Chicago Tribune reports that all Cook County mass vaccination sites are now accepting walk-ins, which will help alleviate some of the difficulties experienced beforehand.

COVID-19 is the latest of all of the diseases that used to exist as part of the ordinary fabric of life for Loftus. They have disappeared or been marginalized as vaccines were developed and the public was inoculated against these diseases; Polio and tuberculosis no longer exist in the United States. In the United States, all residents still receive vaccines against TB which continue to protect us from this disease.

“I was a teenager when the polio vaccine came out. I’m sure everybody felt secure, like as of today, with our different injections for COVID,” Loftus said. “I think that everybody was ready to accept at least something to help eradicate damage, but [polio and tuberculosis] are eradicated now, because of these injections that we’re getting.”

With positive experiences with vaccines across the course of her life, Loftus was excited to receive both Moderna shots last February. After having her life turned upside down while in lockdown, she is excited and hopeful to return to her normal routine soon. Scared of catching the virus and passing it along to her family, Muriel now has peace of mind.

“I wore the mask and I didn’t go anywhere. So if I went anywhere if I went to the grocery store, I just made sure I got what I wanted and get out of there,” Loftus said. “I sanitized my hands and everything. I was scared to catch it myself.”

Karla Carrillo is a nursing student at Dominican University who has spent time volunteering as a vaccine administrator at Holy Cross Hospital on the South Side of Chicago. Karla believes vaccines are the tool that will help return Chicago, along with the rest of the world, to normalcy.

“I think [the vaccine] is a very good way to stop the spread again because we’ve had such a surge of infection rate,” Carrillo said. “So, the vaccine will stop that and kind of slowly help us bring things back to normal on campus, at family gatherings, things like that.”

Since December, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines have been approved for use by the FDA, but hesitancy still maintains with each option. Carrillo said she is under the impression that the main source of uncertainty for the community she serves is the speed at which these vaccines were developed.

Carillo said, “there’s other diseases and other infections: HIV, cancer that they cannot find a cure for. But, they found a cure for COVID so quickly, that some people are skeptical of getting the vaccine.”

According to the Centers for Diease Control and Prevention, CDC, the Pfizer vaccine has demonstrated 95% efficacy, the Moderna option is at 94.1% efficacy, and the Johnson & Johnson shot follows at 66.3%. The three options utilize different technology, but the goal is to evoke an immune response in the body that produces antibodies that are able to protect the recipient from any future exposure.

According to Carrillo, another source of hesitation comes from fear of the side effects the vaccines can cause.

“I think one of the major themes that patients were nervous, at least the second time around, was those symptoms: the headache, the chills, the fever,” Carrillo said. “I assured them everyone’s different, so you can’t really say for sure what symptoms you’ll have. Most end up with just soreness in their arm.”

According to the CDC, the most common side effects after the vaccine are tiredness, headache, muscle pain, and a fever or chills. But, in most cases, these symptoms are a sign of a healthy immune reaction. All conspiracy theories are false and disproven by the CDC, these harmful narratives are the reason the COVID-19 epidemic has gotten so bad in the United States and why it has taken so long to control it.

“I do not believe of any chip being in it. I believe what Dr. [Anthony] Fauci has to say, that it’s very effective, 99.5% that both of the Pfizer and Moderna, and I think Johnson and Johnson is a little bit less than that,” Loftus said. “So Fauci is the one I believe, not these people that are under Trump.”

To those that still feel hesitancy, Arriola recommends reaching out to a trusted professional.

“I would encourage people who are hesitant to receive the COVID-19 vaccine to reach out to a trusted healthcare provider to help answer their questions and concerns about the vaccine,” Arriola said. “If you don’t have a healthcare provider to ask, please reach out to your local health department. There are COVID-19 vaccine hotlines where people can ask questions about the vaccine. The Chicago Department of Health call line is 312–746–4835.”

If you have received your vaccine, sharing your experience can be important to encourage those that haven’t yet.

“For those that have received the COVID-19 vaccine, please share your story to others about why you decided to get vaccinated, especially to those that are vaccine hesitant.”

UIC ‘21