CHICAGO — A vaccine provider misallocated more than 6,000 doses of coronavirus vaccine meant for Chicago Public Schools employees, according to the city’s health department.
The city has cut off its supply of doses to the provider, Innovative Express Care, according to a Tuesday news release. Innovative Express Care is a small, local chain of urgent care clinics that the city had contracted with to vaccinate CPS employees.
But the health department has “since learned that [Innovative Express Care] administered vaccine to non-CPS individuals without prior authorization,” according to the health department. “As a result, [the health department] will be reclaiming all vaccine distributed and stored at” Innovative Express Care, and has arranged for other providers to give out those shots.
Besides vaccinating people who weren’t CPS employees, the chain used doses meant to be for CPS employees’ second shots as first shots for other people, according to the health department.
“This is completely unacceptable behavior,” according to the health department.
The chain will not be doing any more first dose appointments, according to the health department. People who got their first shot through Innovative Express Care will be contacted to set up an appointment at Truman College for their second dose.
It wasn’t immediately clear who received the doses intended for CPS employees or if those people were eligible to be vaccinated under city and state rules.
Jennifer Monasteri, a spokeswoman for Innovative Express denied the allegations the company misappropriated doses and blasted the city’s decision to cut them off.
Last week, founder Dr. Rahul Khare posted an explainer on the company website, “Getting Vaccines to Those Who Need Them Most,” breaking down how they doled out city-provided vaccines. About 30 percent of the doses were earmarked for CPS, Khare wrote. The rest were offered through the company website, ZocDoc and on-site community events.
Monasteri said in a statement the city never told them they had to reserve vaccines for first and second doses. No doses were diverted away from district workers, Monasteri said, and all vaccines left over from their CPS allotment went to another eligible person in an attempt to use up all of the shots.
“Clearly, we took this idealistic vision very seriously, which meant that doses intended for CPS employees actually went to seniors, frontline essential workers, and other qualified patients. We never departed from the commitment to CPS employees, nor other qualified individuals,” Monasteri said.
“The decision by CDPH officials today leaves us bewildered, saddened, and frankly disappointed in our local government,” Monasteri said. “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. 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.”
The company’s contract with CPS states any extra doses that could not be refrigerated needed to be offered to any CPS employee, regardless of whether they had an appointment or where they fell in the district’s priority chart for shots. Innovative also was expected to only “thaw and open the number of vaccines needed to cover appointments each day” to avoid having any left over.
The contract was worth up to $5 million, records show.
Vaccines for teachers, staff and others who work in school buildings were a critical sticking point between the district and the Chicago Teachers Union during reopening talks this year.
In the reopening deal finalized last month, the district agreed to start vaccinating special education and Pre-K staffers right away, to prioritize workers who were high-risk or lived with high-risk relatives and to launch vaccination sites only for district workers.
“We are deeply concerned by the allegations involving Innovative Express, and are committed to a smooth transition that ensures minimal disruption for staff,” CPS Spokesman Michael Passman said in a statement. “We have worked with the Chicago Department of Public Health to identify a new vaccination partner that will begin operating our vaccination sites this Thursday, and Innovative Express’s actions have not impacted our ability to offer appointments until this point.”
CTU President Jesse Sharkey said the revocation of vaccines from Innovative has meant some teachers had their vaccine appointments canceled with little notice.
The district “may want to run an audit on who is doing what with vaccine doses meant for the workers in our schools. And the Chicago City Council should be calling for hearings into how the city is partnering with organizations to administer this potentially life-saving medication,” Sharkey said in a statement. “It’s a failure, on multiple levels, from the people who run our school district.”
This is the second vaccine provider to have its doses cut off by the city.
Last week, the health department announced it had cut doses to Loretto Hospital following investigations from Block Club Chicago and WBEZ showing the West Side hospital vaccinated ineligible people.
The health department is investigating Loretto’s vaccination practices after it vaccinated ineligible people at Trump Tower, at a ritzy Gold coast business and in the suburbs. All three locations have ties to Loretto CEO George Miller or Chief Operating Officer Dr. Anosh Ahmed.
The city won’t provide doses to Loretto until after its review is complete and officials are confident it will follow the health department’s rules, officials have said.
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