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Trump Tower vaccine fiasco ‘absolutely can never be repeated,’ Lightfoot says

The incidence suggests a troubling misallocation of desperately needed doses, said Dr. Marina Del Rios, director of Social Emergency Medicine at University of Illinois Health. “I find it very unethical and disheartening.”

Trump International Hotel & Tower, pictured last fall. Mayor Lori Lightfoot said she was “disappointed” that 72 workers received COVID-19 vaccinations there despite not being eligible.
Trump International Hotel & Tower, pictured last fall. Mayor Lori Lightfoot said she was “disappointed” that 72 workers received COVID-19 vaccinations there despite not being eligible.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

A “disappointed” Mayor Lori Lightfoot on Wednesday chastised executives at The Loretto Hospital who approved a round of COVID-19 vaccinations for employees of the tony Trump International Hotel & Tower last week even though they weren’t eligible to get the coveted shots.

The CEO of the Austin neighborhood hospital — which the mayor chose as the site of the city’s first-ever vaccine dose as a show of commitment to equitable vaccine distribution in low-income communities of color — has said “we were mistaken” in letting the 72 hotel workers jump to the front of the line.

Lightfoot called it a blunder that “can never be repeated.”

“Of course I was disappointed to hear about it. … Loretto has been a tremendous partner with the city,” Lightfoot said during a news conference announcing the city’s plan to expand eligibility — including to hospitality workers — on March 29.

Chicago Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady (speaking) and Mayor Lori Lightfoot appear at Loretto Hospital Dec. 15, when the city administered its first-ever COVID-19 vaccine doses to health care workers.
Chicago Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady (speaking) and Mayor Lori Lightfoot appear at Loretto Hospital Dec. 15, when the city administered its first-ever COVID-19 vaccine doses to health care workers.
Chicago Tribune pool photo

“I think they’ve owned responsibility for this. ... They recognize that this was a mistake and absolutely can never be repeated, and it’s a cautionary tale for any other provider.”

Loretto president and CEO George Miller acknowledged the March 10 vaccine fiasco in a hospital memo, saying his West Side hospital was “under the impression that restaurant and other frontline hospitality industry workers” were eligible to get shots.

George Miller, CEO of Loretto Hospital, pictured in December.
George Miller, CEO of Loretto Hospital, pictured in January.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

“I now understand, after subsequent conversations with the Chicago Department of Public Health, that we were mistaken,” Miller wrote.

Loretto spokeswoman Bonni Pear confirmed the hospital’s chief operating officer, Anosh Ahmed, owns a unit in Trump Tower, but the decision to administer vaccines in the ritzy skyscraper was Miller’s “and his alone,” according to Pear.

Block Club Chicago, which first reported the Trump Tower vaccination event, obtained a photo of Ahmed posing with Eric Trump, son of the former president, at the hotel that day. In a series of text messages, Ahmed reportedly bragged about vaccinating the younger Trump, calling him a “cool guy.”

Ahmed claims he was just joking around.

“Eric Trump happened to be in the building but we did not vaccinate him,” Ahmed said through the Loretto spokeswoman. “A few residents including myself did take a photo with him. My post was meant as a joke, given his anti-vaccine stance.”

Eric Trump is executive vice president of the Trump Organization, which owns the family’s namesake riverside hotel. Representatives for the organization did not respond to requests for comment.

It’s not clear if any of the 72 vaccinated workers might have been eligible for shots due to other factors, such as being 65 or older, or living in ZIP codes prioritized for vaccination by the city. Pear said the hospital “is currently compiling demographic information” on the workers, but had not released data as of Wednesday evening.

Dr. Marina Del Rios was among Chicago’s first five health care workers to receive a COVID-19 vaccine dose.
Dr. Marina Del Rios was among Chicago’s first five health care workers to receive a COVID-19 vaccine dose.
Chicago Tribune pool photo

‘Unethical and disheartening’

At a December 15 event at Loretto to administer the very first vaccinations in Chicago, Miller explained that his hospital had a duty to take the lead and vaccinate people in underserved areas, and he even drew a distinction between life expectancy between people who live downtown compared with those who live in West Side neighborhoods.

“Prior to COVID, if you live in downtown Chicago life expectancy there was 88.2 years of life,” Miller said. “If you come just a 20-minute drive on the Eisenhower, exit 23B, that number drops down to 68.2 years of life. You lose 20 years of life in a 20-minute drive and I think that’s wrong and that’s why The Loretto Hospital mission is to change that inequity and disparity in health care.”

Dr. Marina Del Rios, director of Social Emergency Medicine at University of Illinois Health and an advocate for prioritizing vaccinations on the city’s West and South sides, said the Trump Tower event suggests a troubling misallocation of desperately needed doses.

“Loretto is in the middle of one of the hardest hit areas of Chicago,” said Del Rios, who received the first dose at Loretto. “To see its vaccines go to another place? … Was the community OK with this decision? That’s really problematic.”

While she praised the city’s commitment to equitable vaccine distribution, she called the event “very unethical and disheartening.”

State Rep. La Shawn Ford (D-Chicago) shared her disappointment and said the shots should be reserved for hard-hit areas like Austin. He said he was working “with the hospital’s team to set up control measures designed to prevent this from happening again.”

Chicago Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady noted the misguided doses were given “in the context of nearly a million that have been done, but nevertheless we obviously want to make sure that people are being vaccinated when it is their turn.”

“We have a finite amount of vaccine in this city,” Lightfoot said. “We’ve been really, really careful to make sure that we’re using it in a way that prioritizes the most vulnerable people who are most at risk, and are most at risk of spreading it. … This is one event, I don’t think it overall affects the hard work that we put in to make sure that this is a distribution process that really begins and ends with equity, but we just can’t have something like this happen again.”