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Update on Vaccine Planning for Faculty and Staff

Dear Northwestern community,

This message provides an update on Northwestern’s vaccination planning efforts. Vaccination plans in Illinois, Evanston and Chicago are still evolving, meaning certain aspects remain unknown today and continue to change. We will continue to share updates as we learn them.

Limited Vaccine Availability

The availability of vaccines across the state remains extremely limited, resulting in only about 5% of eligible individuals receiving immunization (see table below) each week. The City of Evanston also sent recent updates emphasizing the challenges with the vaccine rollout. The federal government allocates the vaccine to state and local health departments, which then determine how to best distribute them across their regions.

Northwestern University’s Role in Vaccine Distribution

Northwestern University currently does not have direct access to any vaccine supply, which limits our ability to quickly increase access for faculty and staff. We are working closely with the City of Evanston to evaluate potential vaccine distribution sites on campus, for both the Northwestern and broader Evanston communities.

It likely will be at least several more weeks before there is enough supply to support Northwestern vaccination sites. We are working diligently to ensure the infrastructure is in place to begin vaccinating according to public health guidelines once we are able to do so.

Phases 1a and 1b of the Illinois plan

A number of students, faculty and staff already have been vaccinated during phase 1a of the Illinois plan because they are healthcare workers exposed to patients in clinical settings. Most who qualified in this category received their vaccine through Northwestern Medicine (NM) or other non-University vaccination sites established for healthcare workers. NM and Feinberg School of Medicine continue to work closely to provide vaccines to faculty, staff and students who are working with patients or in a clinical setting.

The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) has allowed local public health departments to begin moving to phase 1b, and both Chicago and Evanston have announced their intention to do so. This phase is anticipated to last several months.

Under the Illinois plan, phase 1b focuses on “frontline essential workers” and those aged 65 or older. The state’s definition of “frontline essential workers” does not broadly include those working in higher education. However, some members of the University will qualify during this phase due to their age or the unique aspects of their job. The list below outlines IDPH’s approach to phase 1b.

Who is eligible in Phase 1b?

Persons that have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19 and frontline workers with higher risk off exposure due to inability to perform work duties remotely and proximity to co-workers or the public.

  • Elder

    • Age 65+
  • Frontline workers

    • First responders: Fire, law enforcement, 911 workers, security personnel, school officers
    • Education (congregate child care, pre-K through 12th grade): Teachers, principals, student support, student aids, day care workers
    • Food and agriculture: Processing, plants, veterinary health, livestock services, animal care
    • Manufacturing: Industrial production of goods for distribution to retail, wholesale or other manufactures
    • Corrections workers and inmates: Prison/jail officers, juvenile facility staff, workers providing in-person support, inmates
    • U.S. Postal Service workers
    • Public transit workers: Flight crew, bus drivers, train conductors, taxi drivers, para-transit drivers, in-person support, ride sharing services
    • Grocery store workers: Baggers, cashiers, stockers, pick-up, customer service
    • Shelters/adult day care: Homeless shelter, women’s shelter, adult day/drop-in program, sheltered workshop, psycho-social rehab

Identifying Access in Phase 1b

While the state’s plan does not specifically address the unique aspects of higher education, we have consulted our public health and clinical partners to ensure our interpretations are aligned about who qualifies under phase 1b. Certain frontline essential roles that are at an increased risk of exposure and transmission given the onsite environments in which they work will be prioritized in this phase.

Individuals eligible under phase 1b will receive an email next week with a brief survey confirming their desire to receive the vaccine when it is available. Consistent with the practices of the public health departments and our partners at NM, we will prioritize that group by age. Please remember that the number of people in this group is likely larger than the available supply – for example, Northwestern has more than 1,300 faculty and staff over the age of 65 that would fall into this 1b category.

Future Phases of Vaccine Availability

More individuals will have access to the vaccine as the state moves into future phases. Phase 1c includes individuals between 16 and 64 with higher-risk medical conditions and other essential employees. The timing for the transition to phase 1c is unknown.

Other Ways to Get Vaccinated

While Northwestern will continue to make efforts to offer the vaccine directly, in many cases, you may be able to get your vaccine earlier through other providers. Most distribution is currently happening through large healthcare systems, CVS and Walgreens, major grocery store chains with pharmacies and local municipal distribution sites. We encourage you to explore vaccine locations at Vaccination Location (

The City of Evanston is beginning to reach out to those who live or work in Evanston who completed its Vaccine Contact Form and who qualify in phase 1b. If the City contacts you, you can get vaccinated without any involvement from Northwestern. If you haven’t yet completed this form, we encourage you to do so. Northwestern continues to work with the City to share information about our faculty and staff needing access to the vaccine in these early phases.

Staying Patient and Continuing Healthy Behavior

In addition to the survey for those qualifying for phase 1b noted above, we will survey other members of the NU community to gauge interest for future stages. We ask that our faculty, staff and students respect the public health strategies tied to vaccine distribution and avoid attempts to “jump the line” for earlier access to the vaccine.

We all wish the vaccination process was moving faster. We will continue to work with our partners to support vaccination plans where we can and treat people with fairness and transparency in the process. The work and collaboration across our Northwestern community this past year has been a testament of our strong culture, and while we are all anxious to move to this next phase of the COVID pandemic, your patience and diligence to stay healthy and safe remains essential.

Please remember that all of our other precautions – social distancing, testing and contact tracing, masking, washing hands and staying home when you are sick – will be ever-more important as we move through the coming months. Let’s all stay vigilant to maximize the benefit of the vaccine once it is ready for us.

Luke Figora
Senior Associate Vice President
Chief Risk and Compliance Officer