• Erin Hegarty
    Joel Ebert
    MAR 10, 2021

    More than half of United Center vaccination slots unfilled as officials shift to ‘targeted’ approach

    More than half of United Center vaccination slots unfilled as officials shift to ‘targeted’ approach  

    Contradicting earlier reports that all of the vaccination appointment slots available at the United Center were filled, officials said on Tuesday that tens of thousands of appointments have not yet been taken but will be filled with a more “targeted” and “equity” approach.  

    Gov. JB Pritzker, Cook County Board President Toni PreckwinkleChicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Chicago Department of Public Health Comm. Allison Arwady announced the open slots alongside other local and federal officials Tuesday morning at the United Center, where they marked the opening of the massive vaccination site set to administer 6,000 vaccines per day for at least the next eight weeks. Arwady said the site will ultimately deliver about 336,000 shots of the two-dose Pfizer vaccine meaning about 168,000 could be vaccinated at the United Center in the next eight weeks. City officials originally projected 110,000 shots would be available at the United Center. 

    Appointments at the United Center were open to all Illinois residents 65 and older the between Thursday morning and late Sunday afternoon. Nearly 40,000 seniors had signed up for appointments by Sunday evening, but fewer than 40 percent were Chicago residents “and we had some concerns about the equity data that we were seeing,” Arwady said.  

    At that point city, county and state officials with guidance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) decided to “really take a much more focused equity approach to the remainder of these vaccines” and limited about 10,000 vaccination slots to Chicagoans with underlying health conditions who qualify to be vaccinated in the state’s “Phase 1B-Plus,” Arwady said. 

    The last-minute changes and website glitches caused consternation on Sunday as people outside of the 65-and-older group attempted to make vaccination appointments. Pritzker on Monday blamed FEMA for the changes.  

    On Tuesday, Pritzker praised President Joe Biden’s administration for the federally-run vaccination sites, which he called an “incredible investment” that would help inoculate the residents who have been most affected by the pandemic.  

    Members of the public cannot currently make vaccination appointments for the United Center online, but city, county and state health officials are working on additional outreach to the “hardest hit communities to make sure that they have some more targeted ways to sign up for appointments,” the governor said. 

    Chicago officials will focus their outreach on ZIP codes hardest hit by the pandemic, Arwady said. 

    Lightfoot said on Tuesday that "appointments will be set aside" for residents in "high COVID community index neighborhoods," ZIP codes with low vaccination rates and "appointment blocks will be provided to community-based organizations for targeted outreach for special populations in Chicago."  

    The mayor touted the United Center site for being “designed with disability in mind.”  

    “We were intentional about making it fully accessible so that anyone with a disability would be able to get a vaccine in comfort,” Lightfoot said. 

    In addition to local outreach in Chicago, Pritzker said state leaders will begin deploying members of the Illinois National Guard to counties that have seen “lower vaccination rates.” He said starting Monday, National Guard teams will be deployed to Grundy and Rock Island counties.  

    Those two counties have delivered at least one vaccine dose to about 43 percent of local residents 65 and older, according to the state’s latest data. The state’s best-performing counties include Peoria and Champaign counties, which have respectively vaccinated 86 and 72 percent of their senior populations.  

    The Illinois National Guard is providing support at more than 60 locations each day, Pritzker said.  

    Despite some counties’ struggles to vaccinate residents, Pritzker hailed the state’s progress in recent weeks, noting a dramatic decrease in cases, hospitalizations and deaths since the “winter peak.” 

    At the same time, the governor offered a warning, urging residents to continue to wear masks and socially distance. “We aren’t out of the woods yet,” he said. “We’re getting closer every single day to the end of this pandemic but we’re not there yet.” 

    Suburban Cook County appointments, statewide ‘mobile efforts’  

    Some United Center vaccination slots have been set aside for residents of suburban Cook County, but information on how to sign up for those appointments was not yet available as of Tuesday. Additionally, “mobile efforts” will bring the vaccine to areas of the state with high COVID-19 infection numbers, Arwady said.  

    “The majority of vaccination appointments do remain available here at the United Center,” Arwady said. “Over the whole time of this United Center operation, it’s more like 185,000 that will be able to get appointments...On purpose we did not make all of the appointments available from the beginning.”  

    City officials had previously touted the total number of appointments available to receive the Pfizer vaccine over the eight-week period as 110,000.  

    Related: Vaccine distribution pace quickens as United Center appointment slots set to open: Arwady  

    Arwady said the whole first week of appointments is full and the second and third weeks are “partially booked” as health officials expect the site’s drive-thru section to become operational later.   

    “Everybody’s not going to be able to get vaccinated at this site,” the city’s health commissioner said as she urged patience. 

    Chicago residents can check Zocdoc for appointment cancellations they might be able to register for, according to Arwady. 

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