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Blocked shots? City limiting its share of United Center vaccinations to five ZIP codes hit hard by COVID-19

Chicago will be allotted 60% of the vaccines administered at the United Center for its residents, while Cook County and the state determine rules for other residents. That’s the latest change in a signup process that has caused confusion from the start.

A man arrives for an appointment Tuesday at the COVID-19 mass vaccination site set up on the parking lot of the United Center.
A man arrives for an appointment Tuesday at the COVID-19 mass vaccination site set up on the parking lot of the United Center.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

In a bid to vaccinate more people of color in neighborhoods hit hard by COVID-19, city officials Wednesday limited registration for United Center appointments to Chicagoans in a handful of South and Southwest Side neighborhoods.

Anyone who lives in the 60608, 60619, 60620, 60649 or 60652 ZIP codes can sign up for an appointment at events.juvare.com/chicago/UCPOD/ with the code “CCVICHICAGO,” or by reaching the multilingual call center at (312) 746-4835.

Chicago residents from outside those ZIP codes who try to sign up will have their appointments canceled, according to a city flyer circulated by several community groups.

Chicago will be allotted 60% of the vaccines administered at the United Center for its residents, while Cook County and the state determine rules for other residents. That’s the latest change in a signup process that has caused confusion from the start.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker, Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Federal Emergency Management Agency officials running the mass vaccination site initially said that after a seniors-only signup period, registration would open last Sunday to any Illinois resident 16 or older with a chronic health condition, in addition to select essential workers.

Officials changed that much ballyhooed plan at the last minute when Chicagoans accounted for less than 40% of the initial signups, “a percentage that is at odds with the equity base and inclusion driven reasons behind why the United Center was selected as a vaccine site in the first place,” Lightfoot said during the site launch Tuesday.

Instead, they’ve put a “pause” on United Center signups for Chicagoans who are eligible to get a shot, while targeted outreach efforts are underway in neighborhoods where Black and Brown residents have suffered a disproportionate brunt of the pandemic — and where vaccine uptake so far has lagged behind other whiter, wealthier areas.

City officials expressed frustration this week with the small number of Chicagoans getting shots in the first several days of the site’s opening.

“When you have a strategy that is broadly opened up to the entire state, you may see people who have more resources, more access to internet, more willingness to drive longer distances potentially taking some more of those appointments,” Chicago Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said on Facebook Live Tuesday. “We saw only 37% of the appointments going to people who live here in the City of Chicago.”

Arwady said FEMA put the vaccination site at the United Center to address the racial disparities related to high cases and deaths in Black and Latino communities.

Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez, whose 25th Ward includes ZIP code 60608, said the United Center priority list will help some but not all residents.

Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th) (center), shakes hands with Ald. Roberto Maldonado (26th) before a City Council meeting in 2019.
Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th) (center), shakes hands with Ald. Roberto Maldonado (26th) before a City Council meeting in 2019.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file

“There are still people who are afraid of going to the United Center due to transportation issues or immigration status,” said Sigcho-Lopez, who represents Pilsen and surrounding West Side neighborhoods. We need to have permanent vaccination sites in field houses, churches, community centers.”

“The United Center location was chosen because it is accessible to some of the most diverse and socially vulnerable communities in the Chicagoland areas,” FEMA said in a statement to the Sun-Times.

About 50,000 United Center slots had been booked as of Tuesday, when the first shots went into arms outside the Near West Side arena. About 6,000 doses will be administered per day at the federally run site, with a total of about 185,000 people expected to be inoculated during an eight-week run.

People walk outside the COVID-19 mass vaccination site that was set up on the parking lot of the United Center during the site’s launch Tuesday.
People walk outside the COVID-19 mass vaccination site that was set up on the parking lot of the United Center during the site’s launch Tuesday.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times file

Officials said registration will reopen sometime this week but haven’t released details.

The first UC doses were among 104,777 shots administered statewide Tuesday, marking Illinois fourth-highest one-day total yet, and raising its rolling average of shots given per day to a new high of 95,369.

Almost 3.6 million doses have been administered overall over the past three months, but only about 1.2 million residents are fully vaccinated — roughly 9.8% of the population.

As the vaccine ramp-up continues, coronavirus infection rates remain near all-time lows across Illinois.

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The state Department of Public Health reported 1,682 new cases of the disease were diagnosed among 71,488 tests, keeping Illinois’ average positivity rate at 2.3%. And COVID-19 hospitalizations are as low as they’ve been since last July, with 1,157 beds occupied Tuesday night.

But officials reported 30 more deaths, including that of a Kane County man in his 30s, raising the Illinois death toll to 20,810.

Still, the state’s average daily fatality rate over the past week is 27, down from 53 a month ago.

A year since the virus hit the state, more than 1.2 million people have been infected.