Pharmacies in Latino areas hit hard by COVID should give vaccines to local residents over those driving in from suburbs, Ald. Maldonado says
The Puerto Rican Agenda on Wednesday put forward a four-point vaccination and education model it hopes the city will follow to improve the vaccination rollout in Latino communities.
Community groups and elected leaders are raising the alarm on what they say has been a botched COVID-19 vaccine rollout that hasn’t done enough to help residents of Humboldt Park and other Latino-majority communities in Chicago.
Jessie Fuentes, co-chair of the Puerto Rican Agenda, one of the activist organizations, said at a virtual news conference Wednesday they understand supplies are limited, but still insisted the city must act now to ensure those needing the vaccine are actually getting it. Those in the Latino and Black communities who are eligible for the shot should get priority, Fuentes said, especially since the groups have more COVID-19 cases.
Latinos across the Chicago area have the highest rates of infection compared with all other demographics, with a daily positivity rate of 13.5%, according to city data. That’s more than double the citywide rate of 5.6%.
Ald. Roberto Maldonado (26th) said vaccinations in his ward have fallen severely behind, with only two hospitals able to do them. Pharmacies, including at Walgreens and Mariano’s, are also doing vaccinations but it has been extremely difficult to get appointments, he said. Those that have gotten them can wait weeks to get a shot.
What’s worse, he said, is that many people being vaccinated at neighborhood pharmacies don’t appear to live in the community.
Last Sunday, Maldonado said, a Walgreens in Austin that is just outside his ward had 80 doses of the vaccine ready to use, but among those receiving doses, only two were people of color.
“The rest of the people that received the vaccination were white people coming from the suburbs, even from Deerfield. How can that happen?” Maldonado said. “The city of Chicago can use its influence” with Walgreens, CVS and other pharmacies “to do a much better job of promoting the opportunity of vaccination they do have in our respected communities.”
Although Maldonado didn’t say how he knew those getting shots didn’t live in the area, he said pharmacies like Walgreens have plenty of Latino customers and should do a better job of making sure stores in Latino or Black majority neighborhoods give eligible residents priority.
The pharmacies were contracted to administer vaccines under a partnership with the federal government. Illinois residents that qualify under Phase 1a or 1b — which prioritizes shots for health care workers, essential workers like educators and first responders and those over 65 — can register for appointments at pharmacies around the state. The websites to book appointments do not appear to restrict shots to those who live in the same community a pharmacy is located, however.
Walgreens: No residency requirements to get a shot
Fraser Engerman, a spokesman for Walgreens, said the company is “prioritizing and distributing vaccines” to stores in vulnerable areas, including by working with city officials “to look at city-wide COVID-19 positivity heat maps” and communicating closely “to understand how best to respond to the local need.” However, he acknowledged there is no Chicago residency requirement for those getting shots at stores in the city.
“Vaccine inventory is still limited and we’re committed to only providing vaccinations to eligible individuals,” said Engerman. “As inventory grows, we’ll also be partnering with local and community leaders to set up even more vaccination clinics in these areas.”
State Sen. Omar Aquino, D-Chicago, said it is imperative the state, county and city act now to “save lives” because Latino communities across the country are being affected disproportionately.
“We test at a higher rate. We are dying at a higher rate,” Aquino said.
Jose Sanchez, Humboldt Park Health’s president and CEO, said his organization has the staff and infrastructure to do mass vaccination in greater Humboldt Park — they just don’t have enough vaccines.
“We are not getting a constant supply from the city to get the vaccines we need here in our community,” Sanchez said. “One week we get some, the following week we get nothing. Two weeks go by, we get no vaccines. We cannot have a comprehensive approach to vaccinate everyone in the Humboldt Park area if the vaccines are not available.”
The Puerto Rican Agenda put forward a four-point vaccination and education model it hopes the city will use to improve the vaccination rollout in Latino communities. Maldonado, Aquino and other elected leaders threw their support behind that plan.
It asks the city to make Humboldt Park Health, formerly Norwegian American Hospital, a vaccination hub for Latino and Black communities on the Northwest Side. The plan also suggests testing and vaccinating people “at homes, schools, nursing and senior homes.”
“Testing needs to go beyond hospitals and clinics. We need to meet people where they’re at,” Fuentes said. “We have Puerto Rican refugees in affordable housing buildings, we have elderly people in affordable housing buildings.”
The plan also includes an education campaign, sending health care advocates to ZIP codes with high rates of infection to develop trust and dispel fears of vaccinations.
Lastly, it asks the city to expand on President Joe Biden’s executive order establishing a Public Health Workforce program that trains people in contact tracing, testing and assist in vaccination outreach.
Manny Ramos is a corps member in Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster Sun-Times coverage of issues affecting Chicago’s South and West sides.