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Mass exodus? Last Cook County mass vaccination sites closing next week

“Our focus is now on changing hearts and minds, educating and encouraging those who have not yet been vaccinated to get their vaccination,” said Cook County Health CEO Israel Rocha.

Dr. Kiran Joshi, co-lead and senior medical officer for the Cook County Department of Public Health, speaks during a news conference to announce the opening of the Matteson mass vaccination clinic in April. It will close July 21.
Dr. Kiran Joshi, co-lead and senior medical officer for the Cook County Department of Public Health, speaks during a news conference to announce the opening of the Matteson mass vaccination clinic in April. It will close July 21.
Ashlee Rezin García/Sun-Times

Cook County’s three remaining COVID-19 mass vaccination sites will close next week as public health experts look for other ways to reach communities where immunization rates remain low, officials said Thursday.

More than 600,000 shots have been administered at the county’s mass vax sites — three of which were previously shuttered in late May — but their uptake has fallen from a peak of roughly 4,000 doses per day down to fewer than 100, according to Cook County Health CEO Israel Rocha. The west suburban Forest Park and north suburban Des Plaines sites will close July 20, followed by the south suburban Matteson site the next day.

“We are seeing a waning demand for vaccination in this type of setting,” Rocha said. “Our focus is now on changing hearts and minds, educating and encouraging those who have not yet been vaccinated to get their vaccination. This requires a much more local effort, and we are going to be putting our resources to this in depth.”

That means more “hyperlocal” mobile vaccination clinics being deployed to back-to-school gatherings, neighborhood festivals, forest preserves, courthouses and just about any other event where people congregate — especially in communities of color where vaccination rates are lagging, according to Dr. Kiran Joshi, co-lead of the Cook County Department of Public Health.

COVID-19 vaccine doses administered by day

Graphic by Jesse Howe and Caroline Hurley | Sun-Times

Source: Illinois Department of Public Health

Graph not displaying properly? Click here.

About 60% of Cook County residents have gotten at least one shot, with about 52% of white residents and 76% of Asian residents getting a shot, compared to 46% of Latino residents and 40% of Black residents, county data shows.

Geographically, 68% of residents in the mostly white north suburbs have been vaccinated, compared to about 46% of those in mostly Black south suburbs. Not even 20% of Ford Heights residents have gotten a shot.

“We will be relentless in bringing opportunities for vaccination to those communities, while working hand-in-hand with partners who are trusted messengers to talk about how COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective,” Joshi said.

The importance of that effort grows by the day as the more infectious Delta variant of the coronavirus gains traction in less vaccinated communities.

It’s not clear just how prevalent it is near Chicago yet, but small samples have shown cases doubling every one or two weeks, officials said.

“If your community is below 50% on vaccination rates, you’re going to have a greater chance of having the Delta variant come to your community,” Rocha said.

Statewide, 288 Delta cases have been confirmed, but only a small fraction of positive cases are analyzed to determine if they’re dangerous variants.

Experts say an uptick in cases in less vaccinated areas — especially downstate — is one reason Illinois’ case positivity rate has tripled over the past three weeks to 1.9%, which is still very low compared to the worst days of the pandemic.

But infection rates are increasing across the board. Chicago’s positivity rate has doubled this month to 1.2%, while the state reported 861 new COVID-19 cases Thursday — the most in a day since late May.

“Illinois is not having an enormous surge by any means,” Chicago Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said. “But when you start to get up there, the risk does go from kind of a moderate to a higher risk for people who are unvaccinated.”

Free in-home vaccination appointments are available to all Chicago residents by calling (312) 746-4835.

For help getting a shot in suburban Cook County, visit cookcountypublichealth.org or call (833) 308-1988. To find other Illinois providers, visit coronavirus.illinois.gov or call (833) 621-1284.