Community members from South Side neighborhoods left out of the Protect Chicago Plus initiative are calling on the city to include them in COVID-19 vaccine drives.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot launched the program in January as a way to reach Black and Latino residents who have been hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic. As part of the plan, the city targeted 15 communities that will get additional resources and vaccine drives that open eligibility to anyone living in those neighborhoods.
Arturo Carrillo, from the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, said the initiative has pitted communities against each other. Brighton Park was identified by the city as a high vulnerability community, but it wasn’t ranked in the top 15 neighborhoods and was left out of the initiative.
A coalition of 41 community organizations, including the council, plans to send a letter to Lightfoot asking for the city to expand the initiative to more communities.
“It leaves out health resources, including the vaccine, health care professionals and public health education from neighboring communities,” Carrillo said during a Tuesday morning virtual news conference. “Instead our organizations demand that the plan prioritize the most vulnerable communities in the city while developing a citywide framework to ensure that the delivery of vaccines to Black and Brown communities can be guaranteed for those who have not yet been vaccinated.”
Carrillo argued that the city does have the resources to expand the initiative to other communities, pointing to figures that last month showed the city used $281 million in federal COVID-19 relief money to cover Chicago police personnel costs.
Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Allison Arwady touted the initiative as helping at least three community areas improve inoculation rates.
“We still have a ways to go, don’t get me wrong, but I couldn’t be more pleased with the progress we are seeing,” Arwady said during a Tuesday news conference.
The initial weeks of the vaccine distribution showed few South Side and West Side residents were receiving the shots. The percentage of Black and Latino residents inoculated has grown. As of Feb. 24, Black residents made up 21% of the city’s population who had received a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to city data. Latinos made up 28% of the first dose vaccines administered so far while white residents made up 40%, according to the city’s data.
In South Shore, there were 4,445 residents in the 60649 Zip Code who had gotten their first COVID-19 shot, which is less than 10% of the population, according to city data.
Linda Young, a South Shore resident, said she wasn’t sure why her neighborhood was left out of the initiative though it was included in earlier equity programs. South Shore is considered a “medium vulnerability” community by the city.
“Our community continues to be one of those impacted by chronic disease rates, bad air quality, mortality rates are high and we also have disparity in vaccination sites,” Young said.
Carmen Orozco, a health promoter with the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council, said some residents in the Southwest Side neighborhood still aren’t eligible for the vaccine though they work in restaurants or in janitorial services. She said residents have been asking her about the vaccine, but she feels distressed not knowing when this community will have access to it.
Amelia NietoGomez, from the Alliance of the Southeast, said residents in communities like South Chicago and the East Side need neighborhood vaccination sites because of transportation issues. Many also lack internet access and need assistance securing vaccine appointments, NietoGomez said.
Dr. Marina Del Rios, from Illinois Unidos and a UIC emergency room doctor, thinks the city should have used different metrics to evaluate the risk level of communities by considering the mortality rates for Black and Latino residents. She also thinks the city should have factored in that some Latinos might be undocumented or lack health insurance, resulting in this community being more hesitant to go to a hospital.
“We need more resources in order to save more lives,” Del Rios said. “I don’t want to be continuing to see people from my community dying young for a disease that is now largely preventable if we can just get vaccines (into) the arms of more people.”
Elvia Malagón’s reporting on social justice and income inequality is made possible by a grant from The Chicago Community Trust.