Chicago is partnering with an online health care service to allow residents to schedule COVID-19 vaccinations, though there are still an extremely limited number of shots available and users potentially will get no more than a response promising to send an email when appointments open up.
The city says eligible residents, including those 65 and older and essential workers, can sign up through a website or app operated by Zocdoc, a New York-based medical appointment service. It can be accessed at www.zocdoc.com/vaccine or by downloading the app, which is available from Apple and Google app stores.
There is no fee for the service and Zocdoc provides no phone number option for scheduling. City health officials encourage people to first try to schedule vaccinations through their own health care providers.
In addition to the city, Zocdoc is working with a handful of health care providers, including AMITA Health, Erie Family Health, Innovative Express Care and Rush University Medical Center. These sites are booking appointments for essential workers and seniors, although again, slots are extremely limited.
The company hopes to eventually include other providers.
Two Sun-Times reporters tested the Zocdoc site Tuesday with mixed results. Initially, the site only returned messages that relay “You’re signed up!” and notes “we’ll send you an email … when we’re available to book vaccination appointments in your city.” On subsequent tries, several appointments appeared for the middle of March but they were snapped up within minutes.
The Sun-Times tested pharmacy websites promoting vaccinations recently only to find them hard to navigate and appointment nearly impossible to book.
City officials said that Zocdoc will be a tool for those eligible to schedule vaccinations at sites set up at City Colleges. However, those locations are booked near term to vaccinate health care workers.
Some City College locations offered appointments in March for seniors in the test conducted by the Sun-Times, but those time slots were snatched up quickly.
Chicago health officials say they hope many thousands of seniors and essential workers will get shots over the next two months but the city cannot ramp up the pace of vaccinations until the federal government ships more shots.
“We still need people to be patient as the vaccine rollout continues,” Chicago Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said. Most seniors are being contacted by their doctors or other health care providers to invite them to get vaccinations.
Zocdoc Vice President of Strategy Richard Fine said at a news conference in Chicago that he understands how frustrating it’s been for people to spend hours looking for vaccination appointments online.
“It doesn’t have to be this way,” Fine said, adding that he hopes people can book appointments within a minute using his company’s service.
Brett Chase’s reporting on the environment and public health is made possible by a grant from The Chicago Community Trust.