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Austin, Garfield Park, North Lawndale

Here’s How West Side Hospitals Are Vaccinating Older People, Frontline Workers

Hospitals are trying to get more people vaccinated on the West Side, where neighborhoods have been hit hard by the pandemic.

Elizabeth Zimnie (center), an ER nurse at Norwegian American Hospital, receives the COVID-19 vaccination administered by Dr. Abha Agrawal (left), chief medical officer at Norwegian American Hospital at Loretto Hospital in Chicago on Dec. 15, 2020.
Jose M. Osorio/Chicago Tribune/Pool
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AUSTIN — West Side hospitals have opened coronavirus vaccinations to essential workers and seniors.

The city entered Phase 1B of the vaccine distribution plan Monday, which means vaccines are available to people 65 and older and frontline essential workers, like teachers, postal workers and grocery employees. Previously, only health care workers could be vaccinated.

Here’s what local providers are doing:

  • The infectious disease team at Loretto Hospital, 645 S. Central Ave., plans to vaccinate 200 people per day. Vaccines are being offered for free, regardless of insurance status.
    Eligible people can call Loretto’s 24/7 vaccine scheduling hotline at 773-996-7937 or email to register.
  • Sinai Chicago in North Lawndale is vaccinating eligible people. You can make an appointment online.
  • Lawndale Christian Health Center is offering about 100 vaccinations per day to patients who are already in their network. The health center is focused on getting seniors vaccinated.

More than half of Chicagoans who have been vaccinated are white, and many live in central Chicago or on the North Side, officials said earlier this month. They said that’s partly because the first phase of the vaccination campaign focused on health care workers.

RELATED: Here’s How You Can Get Vaccinated Against Coronavirus In Chicago

But now that the city is in Phase 1B of its vaccine plan and is widening access, officials hope more people of color and people on the South and West sides will be able to get vaccinated — especially because those communities have been hit the hardest by the pandemic.

“This is an important turning point for our community,” said Dr. Carlos Zambrano, an infectious disease specialist at Loretto Hospital. “It’s our opportunity to take a stand against the pandemic that has so disproportionately impacted our mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters and neighbors.”

Some people who eligible for the vaccines are skeptical, Zambrano said, especially in Black and Latino communities. The hesitancy stems from a deep history of medical neglect and the exploitation of people of color.

“There’s been an understandable level of mistrust, even among some of our own hospital co-workers,” he said. “But as individuals have been able to learn more about the vaccine and how it works, we’ve seen a significant increase in the number of team members stepping up to be vaccinated.”

Related: Some West Siders Skeptical Of Coronavirus Vaccines, But City Hopes To Earn Their Trust With An Equitable Distribution Plan

About 30 percent of Chicago’s residents are Latino and 30 percent are Black, but about 45.75 percent of Chicago’s confirmed COVID-19 cases were in Latino people and 22.3 were in Black people in cases where a person’s race was known. About 38.7 of the city’s COVID-19 deaths were among Black people and 33.9 percent among Latinx people.

But there has been an “unexpectedly low number of Black and Brown Chicagoans [who] have taken the vaccine so far,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot said during a Monday news conference. 

Data on the race of those getting vaccinated is incomplete, according to the city, but officials estimate about 53 percent of those vaccinated in Chicago are white, 14 percent Asian, 15 percent Black and 17 percent Latino. About 7 percent of people’s race or ethnicity was unknown.

“If we do not reverse this trend, we will continue to see more Black and Brown [people] die of this virus when a vaccine is right here, right now, for free for all,” Lightfoot said.

The city launched the Protect Chicago Plus campaign to remove barriers to getting vaccinated in communities most impacted by the pandemic. The program will target North Lawndale and Austin, among other neighborhoods.

RELATED: Black, Latino Chicagoans Dying Of Coronavirus More Than All Others, But They’re Not The Ones Getting Vaccinated

Sarah Diamond, a co-medical director and lead infectious disease clinician at Lawndale Christian, said the vaccines are an important strategy for addressing coronavirus in Black neighborhoods like North Lawndale, where many residents are frontline workers and risk more exposure.

“A lot of our community members are essential workers and can’t work from home. A lot of our community tends to live in tighter settings, or multigenerational families,” Diamond said.

Neighborhoods hit hardest by the pandemic often have high prevalence of underlying chronic health conditions that make coronavirus much more dangerous, Diamond said. That prevalence can stem from a historical lack of access to care, as well as social determinants of health disparities like income, access to food and education.

“People who live in North Lawndale tend to be at high risk for severe disease. In communities of color, we also see disproportionately high rates of things like diabetes and hypertension,” Diamond said. “It’s not only the incidence of COVID in the community but also the risk of severe disease amongst our population.”

Pascal Sabino is a Report for America corps member covering Austin, North Lawndale and Garfield Park for Block Club Chicago.

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