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6,000 CPS vaccines misallocated by clinic, city says: ‘This is completely unacceptable behavior’

Innovative Express Care won’t get any more doses, the city announced Tuesday. But the clinic said it gave leftover doses only to those who were eligible and said it was “bewildered” by the decision.

Teacher Jeff Lorenz receives the Moderna vaccine from Innovative Express Care CEO Rahul Khare at the opening of a vaccination site at Theodore Roosevelt High School at 3436 W. Wilson Ave in Albany Park, Wednesday, March 17, 2021. |
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

City officials are cutting off vaccine supply to a private clinic that was contracted to vaccinate Chicago Public Schools employees but “knowingly misallocated” 6,000 doses to people with no ties to the district, the Chicago Department of Public Health said Tuesday.

The leaders of Innovative Express Care took some of those vaccines that had been set aside for second doses for CPS employees and instead used them for first doses for non-CPS patients, officials alleged.

“This is completely unacceptable behavior,” the department said in a statement.

But the Lincoln Park-based clinic says it was following an “idealistic vision,” giving leftover doses to seniors, front-line essential workers and other qualified recipients.

“The decision by CDPH officials today leaves us bewildered, saddened, and frankly disappointed in our local government,” IEC leaders said in a statement. “CDPH officials never made it clear to us as a provider that we should be storing vaccines in a refrigerator for people awaiting second doses. Rather, we have been following the nation’s commitment to get as many vaccines in eligible patients’ arms, as quickly as possible.”

Idealistic or not, the city said it was “reclaiming all vaccine distributed and stored at IEC,” and is arranging new providers for the teachers and other CPS employees who were scheduled for first or second doses through the clinic.

The latest allegations of misused vaccines follow a week of controversy surrounding executives at Loretto Hospital, who also were cut off by the city for doling out shots to ineligible workers at Trump Tower, to Cook County judges and even to workers at the hospital COO’s preferred Gold Coast jewelry store.

IEC leaders suggested Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration was taking that scandal out on them, saying: “Our mission involved vaccinating as many eligible patients as quickly as possible, and not at the whims of the city official’s latest political crisis.”

Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey called the ordeal “a failure, on multiple levels, from the people who run our school district.”

$5 million contract

In February, CPS approved a $5 million arrangement with Innovative Express to operate four vaccination centers at high schools across the city that were dedicated to giving shots to teachers and other school workers. The clinic was expected to store and administer doses distributed by the city, provide medical supplies for vaccinations, staff the centers and train additional workers.

The contract says the “vendor shall only use COVID-19 vaccines provided by CDPH at the COVID-19 Vaccination Centers for individuals identified by CPS as eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccines.”

CPS and Innovative Care “will make every effort” to give all excess doses on a given day to CPS employees who didn’t have an appointment, the contract says. And to minimize the possibility for excess vaccines in the first place, IEC should only take the number of doses needed to cover appointments out of the refrigerator each day, the agreement said.

IEC said it has already vaccinated “thousands” of district workers and “always ensured that there were enough allocations for additional doses for all CPS employees.”

“We are deeply disappointed in the city’s decision to remove us as a vaccine provider. Chicago needs more vaccination sites that are actually distributing their doses to eligible patients, not fewer,” the IEC statement said. While the clinic, which has two city locations and one in Downers Grove, advertises “COVID-19 Vaccines Now Available” on its website, the link was not working Tuesday evening.

CPS spokesman Michael Passman said CPS had terminated the contract and was assessing how much it owed the provider based on services already provided.

“Innovative Express’s actions have not impacted our ability to offer appointments until this point,” with about 1,500 doses administered weekly since the sites opened last month, he said. As of last week, 5,100 CPS workers have been vaccinated there, district records show.

“We are deeply concerned by the allegations involving Innovative Express, and are committed to a smooth transition that ensures minimal disruption for staff,” Passman said in a statement. The city has contracted a new vaccination partner — Chicago Internal Medical Practice And Research — that will operate the district-run sites starting Thursday, he said.

CPS workers with vaccination appointments on Wednesday will be rescheduled. Those who had appointments on Thursday or later “will continue to be vaccinated at the same CPS high school site where they were originally scheduled,” officials said. Non-CPS patients who got first doses will be contacted about scheduling a second dose appointment at a special clinic at Truman College.

Innovative Express Care CEO Rahul Khare speaks at the CPS vaccine event last week.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

CEO ‘proud to work with CPS’

Top CPS leadership, including schools chief Janice Jackson, appeared at a press event with Khare last Wednesday at Roosevelt High School — one of the four vaccination centers — to announce expanded eligibility for all CPS workers with the help of Innovative Express. Khare gave a shot to special education teacher Jeff Lorenz during the event in front of a backdrop displaying the provider’s logo.

“I am incredibly proud to work with CPS on this vaccination effort,” Khare said at the news conference. “Vaccinating teachers and staff so we can safely return to school and get our children back to the classroom is critical.

“CPS is working so hard to get all staff vaccinated as quickly as possible. Innovative Express Care will stand behind them until this goal is reached.”