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United Center Fills 50,000 Vaccination Appointments After Glitches, Late Change To Chicago-Only Online Signups

A last-minute eligibility change frustrated many people — but the state said it was needed because too many appointments were going to non-Chicagoans.

Bertha Arina receives her COVID-19 vaccine from Ilse Vega, nurse practitioner from Esperanza, in Chicago's Gage Park neighborhood on Feb. 19, 2021.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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Editor’s Note: Officials announced Tuesday they had filled 50,000 appointment slots at the United Center, not 110,000. The story has been updated to reflect that.

CHICAGO — About 50,000 vaccination appointments at the United Center have been taken — but only after technical glitches, eligibility changes and frustration Sunday.

More appointments at the mass vaccination site will open in the weeks to come, officials have said. The center, where up to 6,000 people can be vaccinated per day, will significantly boost Chicago’s and Illinois’ vaccination efforts.

And although it’s a victory for the city and state that the first round of appointments was filled, it was a frustrating process for many people.

Dr. Allison Arwady, head of the Chicago Department of Public Health, said the Zocdoc website used to make appointments was getting 300,000 hits per minute at its peak — and 754 appointments were booked per minute.

Last-Minute Eligibility Change

Officials originally said any eligible Illinoisan would be able to get vaccinated at the site — and appointments were open to any Illinois resident 65 and older starting Thursday.

But less than an hour before 4 p.m. Sunday — when appointment slots were set to open to other eligible Illinoisans — the Governor’s Office announced the site’s eligibility requirements had changed and only Chicago residents would be able to use Zocdoc to get an appointment there.

Arwady said she knows the last-minute change was “disappointing” for people who live outside the city. But FEMA was concerned because just 37 percent of appointments went to Chicagoans when they opened Thursday, and the agency’s expectation had been to get vaccines to Chicago residents, especially those in hard-hit neighborhoods, she said.

Some appointments were held over for people who live outside Chicago, though, as of Monday afternoon, there’s no way for people to claim those slots. More information on that will come out Tuesday, Arwady said.

Cook County residents will still be allowed to get appointments at the United Center, but they have a more limited amount and they’ll have to go through their health department to get a spot.

Other Illinoisans are no longer eligible to use the site. People who had already made an appointment but who live outside Cook County will still be able to keep their time slot and get vaccinated.

The last-minute eligibility change from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which is managing the site, according to the Governor’s Office.

It was made because, prior to the change, the bulk of appointments were going to non-Chicagoans — even though the site was chosen in part because officials wanted people in vulnerable communities on the South and West sides to get vaccinated there, according to the Governor’s Office.

Of the 40,000 people 65 and older who had signed up for appointments at the site by Sunday afternoon, less than 40 percent were Chicago residents, according to the Governor’s Office.

“Many communities in Chicago that have been hardest hit by the virus and experienced the highest rates of severe illness and death have some of the lowest rates of vaccination,” necessitating the change to make it so only Chicagoans and people from Cook County could get appointments, according to the Governor’s Office.

Technical Glitches

When appointments opened to people 65 and older 8:30 a.m. Thursday, the process was marred by technical glitches. It wasn’t until about 9 a.m. that people reported successfully making appointments.

During the time when appointments were only open to Illinoisans 65 and older, more than 40,000 people secured a spot.

But more glitches occurred when appointments opened to all eligible Chicagoans 4 p.m. Sunday — and those issues lasted even longer.

Some people reported being able to secure an appointment shortly before 4 p.m. But Zocdoc soon crashed as thousands of people flooded the site, hoping to get vaccinated.

Numerous people reported a litany of technical issues: no open appointments were shown, the site asked for a code from people but wouldn’t send it to their phones, the site offered an open appointment but then crashed.

While some people reported being able to get an appointment, complaints over the issues flooded social media. It wasn’t until after 5 p.m. that more people reported being able to successfully get an appointment.

Still, some people reported that they were told they’d gotten an appointment and it was confirmed — only to then be canceled without explanation.

And by 6:09 p.m., all appointments had been booked, according to a tweet from Zocdoc.

What’s Next

More appointments will open at the United Center, officials have said, though they have not said when those slots will be made available.

A few people will get vaccinated at the site Tuesday, and it’ll fully open Wednesday.

Here are our resources to help you get vaccinated:

How To Get Updates

You can sign up with Chi COVID Coach to get updates from the city’s health department on its vaccination campaign.

You can check the health department’s website for information.

You can also contact Block Club’s free coronavirus hotline with questions or sign up for our free text alerts for breaking news.

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