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Thousands of United Center vaccination appointments still available as Illinois sets another daily COVID-19 shot record

Only about a quarter of the 110,000 available appointments had been booked as of Friday, when the state set yet another one-day shot record with more than 134,000 administered.

An aerial photo shot with a drone shows a COVID-19 vaccination center being constructed in a parking lot at the United Center. Appointments were still available for seniors Saturday.
An aerial photo shot with a drone shows a COVID-19 vaccination center being constructed in a parking lot at the United Center. Appointments were still available for seniors Saturday.
Scott Olson/Getty Images

A new kind of big top is coming to the United Center next week, and great seats — er, appointments — are still available.

It might not be the greatest show on Earth, but officials say the new mass vaccination site launching next week outside the Near West stadium offers Illinois seniors their best shot yet to get immunized against the coronavirus.

And while it’s been a circus for many Illinois residents jumping through hoops to lock up their vaccine slots elsewhere, thousands of United Center appointments were still available as of Saturday afternoon for people 65 and older.

Those appointments are reserved for seniors until 4 p.m. Sunday, when people 16 and up with chronic health conditions will be eligible to snag any leftovers.

“The city is working around the clock to ensure all our city’s residents are vaccinated, especially seniors, who are among the most vulnerable to the disease,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s office said in a statement. “Vaccinating older residents — regardless of underlying conditions — has the greatest impact on preventing COVID-19-related deaths, as more than 80% of Chicago’s fatalities have been seniors.”

Only about a quarter of the 110,000 available appointments had been booked as of Friday morning. Officials didn’t provide an updated count Saturday, but plenty of slots remained available online for the third and fourth weeks of March.

City officials said they’ve “significantly expanded” their capacity at the multilingual call center taking appointments at (312) 746-4835. To cut down on wait times, though, they recommend booking online at zocdoc.com/vaccine.

The first United Center vaccinations will be administered Tuesday at the federally operated site, which will dole out about 6,000 doses per day — providing the latest shot in the arm for a vaccine rollout that’s gaining momentum across Illinois.

The state set a record for a second straight day with 134,239 shots given Friday, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

Almost 3.3 million doses have been administered since December, and about 1.1 million people have been fully vaccinated either with both required doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, or with the new one-and-done Johnson & Johnson formula.

That means about 8.5% of Illinois residents have been immunized, well short of the 80% officials are targeting to achieve herd immunity.

While that goal inches into view, Illinois’ rolling average of shots given per day is up to a new high of 90,428.

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At the same time, statewide infection rates have fallen nearly to all-time lows, though newer, more infectious strains of the virus have been identified in the state — and the older ones are still exacting a brutal toll.

Officials reported 2,565 new cases were diagnosed among 79,248 tests, to raise Illinois’ average positivity rate slightly to 2.4%.

The state also logged another 50 COVID-19 deaths, including that of a Cook County man in his 30s.

That’s higher than the state’s daily average of roughly 37 deaths per day over the past week, but overall, the fatality rate is down from about 56 per day at the start of February.

Illinois’ death toll over the past year has climbed to 20,750, among 1.2 million residents who have tested positive.