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Black, Latino Chicagoans trail whites in COVID-19 vaccinations

Mayor Lori Lightfoot says she’s targeted 15 vulnerable communities hard hit by the virus to heavily promote vaccination.

Dr. Allison Arwady, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, administers the first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to Mayor Lori Lightfoot at St. Bernard Hospital on Monday.
Dr. Allison Arwady, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, administers the first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to Mayor Lori Lightfoot at St. Bernard Hospital on Monday.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

White Chicagoans are getting vaccinated for COVID-19 at far higher rates than Black and Latino residents, city officials said Monday.

Of the more than 100,000 vaccinations so far, Black Chicagoans account for only 15% while more than half of the city’s residents who got shots are white. Latinos make up 17% and Asians account for 14%, city officials said.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot called the trend alarming and promised that she’ll push to get more Black and Brown residents vaccinated. Lightfoot said she’s targeting 15 South and West side communities for an outreach blitz to push for more participation during the next round of shots.

“Unexpectedly low numbers of Black and Brown Chicagoans have taken the vaccine so far,” Lightfoot said at a news conference in which she received a shot. “If we don’t reverse this trend, we will continue to see more Black and Brown fathers, mothers, grandparents, sons, daughters die of this virus when a vaccine is right here, right now for free for all.”

While the first phase of vaccinations went largely to health care workers, the city is entering into a next round that offers shots to those 65 or older as well as to many essential workers, including police and firefighters, teachers, daycare employees and grocery store workers.

The vaccinations of around 700,000 Chicagoans in that group — seniors or essential workers — are expected to take place from February through at least March, city officials estimate. Doctors and other health care providers are reaching out to their older patients, while the city is trying to coordinate with employers on scheduling shots for workers.

As part of her campaign to push for an equitable inoculation effort across the city, Lightfoot plans to launch a community engagement effort in Archer Heights, Austin, Belmont Cragin, Chicago Lawn, Englewood, Gage Park, Humboldt Park, Montclare, New City, North Lawndale, Roseland, South Deering, South Lawndale, Washington Heights and West Englewood, while also ensuring an ample supply of vaccines will be available to these areas.

The areas represent parts of the city hardest hit by COVID-19 for the number of cases, hospitalizations and for deaths from the virus. They also represent neighborhoods with a high proportion of uninsured, low-income residents and those with other existing health problems making them particularly vulnerable to becoming very sick or dying from the virus, city officials said. Lightfoot said there will be a door-to-door campaign to educate residents and will work with community organizations to coordinate vaccinations.

Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th) receives his first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine Monday at St. Bernard Hospital on the South Side.
Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th) receives his first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine Monday at St. Bernard Hospital on the South Side.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

About one in 25 Chicagoans have received a first dose of vaccine, said Dr. Allison Arwady, the city’s public health commissioner. But the number falls to only one in 45 Latino residents and one in 53 Black Chicagoans, she said.

“We will not get past COVID as a city with some of our neighborhoods heavily vaccinated and some of our neighborhoods very undervaccinated, particularly if those are the settings where COVID is flourishing,” Arwady said.

There’s a long history of distrust of vaccines in the Black community, a challenge Lighftoot has repeatedly acknowledged.

Lightfoot hoped health care workers would set an example for others, convincing people that the vaccines are safe and effective. The mayor held multiple news conferences in which diverse groups of health care workers were vaccinated and used those events to stress the importance of an equitable vaccination rollout. That messaging continued Monday with some public officials on hand to get vaccinated for the public to see.

“What’s important right now is the vaccine is safe,” said Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th), who also received the vaccine at the Monday news conference. “What I want to be able to do is get this vaccine to save lives, not just my life, my family’s lives, my friends’ lives.”

Early data showed people who live in mostly white affluent ZIP codes were the first to step up and get the vaccines while those living in West and South side areas of the city were not getting shots.

Even before the shots were available, some health care workers expressed concerns about the vaccine and suggested participation might not be as high as hospitals and city officials hoped.

Brett Chase’s reporting on the environment and public health is made possible by a grant from The Chicago Community Trust.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot smiles and applauds after she and several others received their first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine Monday at St. Bernard Hospital on the South Side.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot smiles and applauds after she and several others received their first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine Monday at St. Bernard Hospital on the South Side.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times