CHICAGO — The city will have six mass vaccination sits opened by next week, allowing tens of thousands of people to be inoculated against coronavirus each week — but by appointment only.
Two sites, referred to as Points of Dispensing or PODs, opened this week. Three more will open next week, bringing to six the number of city-run locations. Each would be able to vaccinate about 25,000 people per week, though the federal government has not provided Chicago enough vaccine doses to meet that ability.
The mass vaccination sites are being used for outpatient health care workers. They are appointment-only at city colleges campuses at Malcolm X, Truman, Kennedy-King, Olive-Harvey, Richard J. Daley and Arturo Velasquez.
Coronavirus vaccines are not yet available to the general public.
The sites will be used for vaccinating other people once the city is ready to move into the next phase of its vaccination campaign, which will focused on people 65 and older and frontline workers.
The sites are the latest move from the city as it tries to ramp up how many people it can vaccinate. The campaign is expected to take all of 2021.
In Chicago, more than 62,000 residents have received a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and 19,426 of those people have gotten a second dose, according to city data.
But Dr. Allison Arwady, head of the Chicago Department of Public Health, said about 40 percent of doses are going to people who work but don’t live in Chicago, meaning their data isn’t shown in the city’s online database.
Arwady said Fire Department emergency medial services workers are helping with vaccinations at some spots, and the city is putting out a call for volunteers who are licensed health care providers who’d like to be part of the vaccinating team.
The health department will expand the hours mass vaccination sites are operating so there are more appointments available, Arwady said.
Right now, the city is focused on vaccinating health care workers and people living in working in long-term care facilities as part of Phase 1A. That phase will likely take several more weeks, Arwady said.
But while the city prepared to enter Phase 1B, health providers are encouraged to use vaccines that might go unused on their highest-risk patients rather than let the doses go bad. She said the city’s top priority is ensuring doses aren’t spoiled here like they have been in other places.
Patients who get the vaccine early should be 65 and older, have underlying medical conditions that put them at risk for severe COVID-19 and should already be enrolled as a patient at the facility where they get a vaccine, Arwady said.
“There’s a lot of work to make sure no doses are being wasted,” Arwady said.
Phase 1B is expected to take a long time, as there are 360,000 Chicagoans who are 65 or older and hundreds of thousands of essential workers who fall into the category, Arwady said. Vaccinations will still be done on a by-appointment system during that phase, she said.
There is currently no way for people in Phase 1B or later phases to sign up to be vaccinated, but the city will soon release information on how to register, officials said.
The city’s signed up 250 vaccine care providers — like pharmacies and outpatient clinics — that will vaccinate people during 1B and future phrases. Officials are working on bringing in grocery chains with pharmacies like Jewel-Osco so people can also get vaccinated there, Arwady said.
More than 90 percent of the vaccine doses given to the city will end up being given to people through partners like that rather than through city-run vaccination sites, Arwady said.
The health department is also working with nursing, medical and pharmacy schools so students there can eventually vaccinate people under appropriate supervision, Arwady said.
The campaign is expected to take much of 2021 — but Mayor Lori Lightfoot has warned it could take a year and a half unless the federal government provides Chicago with more vaccine doses.
While people are being vaccinated, everyone — including those who have gotten the shots — should still keep wearing masks and social distancing, Arwady said.
“I’m not backing off in terms of all these other mitigation strategies because with the amount of COVID we are still seeing in Chicago” and because a low percentage of people have been vaccinated, Arwady said. “Bottom line is the way you can protect Chicago: First, get educated so you feel confident taking the COVID vaccine when it is your turn.
“But second, do not let up on these things that have gotten us this far.”
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