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Chicago’s making progress on vaccine equity, but there’s so much more to do

The latest data show that 59% of first vaccine doses are now going to African Americans and Latinos.

A National Guard member checks the temperature of people entering the United Center mass COVID-19 vaccination site on Wednesday, Mar. 10, 2021, in Chicago.
A National Guard member checks the temperature of people entering the United Center mass COVID-19 vaccination site on Wednesday.
Shafkat Anowar | AP photo

Amid the confusion and uncertainty surrounding access to the COVID-19 vaccine, one thing remains crystal clear:

People of color, hardest hit by severe illness and death during this pandemic, must get vaccinated as soon as possible. It’s a matter of health care equity for those who’ve borne the heaviest burden from the disease.

America will never get back to normal — eating at a restaurant, going to the movies, having dinner parties with family and friends — until everyone, especially those most at-risk from COVID-19, gets the shot.

“Getting some of these hardest-hit communities heavily vaccinated is by far the most important thing,” Chicago Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady told us Thursday. “Where we have, that’s when we’ve seen cases down. And that’s what we want — an end to COVID.”

Progress, but more to do

The latest city data shows significant progress, with 59% of first vaccine doses now going to Black and Latino Chicagoans since the city launched its Protect Chicago Plus vaccine outreach campaign in 15 communities of color. In Gage Park, South Lawndale, Belmont Cragin and Archer Heights, vaccination rates were up to four times higher at the beginning of March compared to a month prior.

That’s a sharp rise from the beginning of the vaccine rollout, when people of color comprised only 18% of those receiving shots.

On Wednesday, city officials made another direct move for vaccine equity, opting to limit sign-ups for the United Center’s mass vaccination site to those who live in one of five ZIP codes on the South and Southwest Sides: 60608, 60619, 60620, 60649 and 60652.

If you live in one of those ZIP codes and haven’t gotten a shot, sign up now.

The United Center site was chosen for convenience to Chicagoans, more than a few of whom live within walking distance. But 63% of the initial signups were by people who don’t live in the city at all.

We’re happy for those folks, sure. But City Hall’s priority must be Chicagoans, given that so many city residents still lack protection against the potentially deadly virus.

The city must continue to do everything in its power to reach those most at-risk, especially those who don’t have internet access, a car or other resources to find and get to vaccine appointments. If that means opening more neighborhood vaccination sites, perhaps in churches or field houses, as Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez suggested, then make it happen.

Meanwhile, it’s encouraging that Chicago Fire Department paramedics are now providing home vaccine appointments for seniors and others living in those households. And it’s great to learn that health care providers in hard-hit neighborhoods have been working with public health officials on strategies for expanded rollouts once more doses become available.

“People are very much wanting to get the vaccine,” Arwady told us. “We just need the supply.”

No time for vaccine hesitancy

Once that supply is available, we should add, there really is no more room for vaccine hesitancy. We are dismayed that fully 30% of Americans, according to a February poll, still say they “definitely” or “probably” won’t get get vaccinated. And Black Americans are among those who remain the most skeptical.

A worldwide pandemic is no time for fears about vaccines that have been proven safe and effective. Or worse, ludicrous conspiracy theories, as Ald. Walter Burnett (27th) bluntly put it on Tuesday.

“That’s insane,” Burnett said about the wild, baseless rumor that there are microchips in the vaccines. “That’s insanity.”

If there’s any lingering doubt about the absolute necessity of getting vaccinated, consider this: Illinois has experienced a 27% increase in deaths during the pandemic, among the 10 worst states in the country, according to a Chicago Tribune analysis for the 10 months between March 2020 and January 2021.

And once again, deaths were highest among Blacks, Latinos and senior citizens.

Nationally, excess deaths — the number of deaths beyond what would be expected in a typical year — have soared by 555,000, a New York Times analysis has found.

The numbers don’t lie. Get the shot as soon as it’s your turn.

If you live in one of the five ZIP codes mentioned in this editorial, you can register to get the vaccine at events.juvare.com/chicago/UCPOD/ with code “CCVICHICAGO,” or by reaching the multilingual call center at (312) 746-4835.

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