Ward with low COVID-19 risk holds exclusive vaccination event

As Chicago news is filled with headlines about COVID-19 vaccines being directed innappropriately to well-connected groups and while Mayor Lori Lightfoot touts the need for equity in vaccinations, 40th Ward Alderman Andre Vasquez hosted a 1,500 dose COVID-19 vaccination event last week that was limited to ward residents and teachers working in the ward. Jewel-Osco co-hosted the March 25th event at River Park Fieldhouse and provided the vaccine doses and the medical personnel to administer the shots.

The event announcement stated “This event is open to 40th Ward residents and teachers who work in our ward; if there are still open spots on Wednesday morning, non-40th Ward residents may register as well.”

It’s not clear whether anyone outside the ward was able to register. On Wednesday morning Ald. Vasquez wrote on Facebook that not only had all 1,500 appointments been reserved but there were already 500 people on a waiting list. Those vaccinated will get their second dose at a follow-up event on April 15th.

The North Side ward would seem to be an odd choice for such a targeted event, as it is an area deemed low vulnerability by the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH). The Chicago COVID-19 Community Vulnerability Index (CCVI) was created by CDPH to identify “communities that have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 and are uniquely vulnerable to barriers to COVID-19 vaccine uptake.” The COVID-19 death rate is 3 times higher in high vulnerability communities compared to low vulnerability ones, according to the CCVI.

At the same time, Mayor Lightfoot and CDPH have been striving to target more resources to the neediest areas of the City. CDPH is running an effort called Protect Chicago Plus to bring vaccinations to high-need communities. According to the Protect Chicago Plus website:

“Equity drives all vaccine distribution in the City of Chicago. As we strive to vaccinate the entire city while faced with a limited supply of vaccine, our commitment to equity is more important than ever. Equity is not only part of our COVID-19 strategy, equity is our strategy.”

The plan developed for Protect Chicago Plus “targets 15 high-need communities based on the City’s COVID vulnerability index, to ensure that a significant part of the City’s vaccine supply goes to these communities.” The 15 targeted communities are all on the City’s West and South Sides.

Mayor Lightfoot was vaccinated at the event announcing announcing Protect Chicago Plus. (City of Chicago)

The CCVI evaluates 10 indicators to rank the community areas in Chicago. The bulk of the 40th Ward is in Lincoln Square, which is ranked the 6th least vulnerable out of the 77 community areas in Chicago. The ward also includes portions of five other community areas. Most of these are also highly ranked, and all of them fall within the top half: Edgewater (8th), Uptown (15th), Rogers Park (24th) West Ridge (29th), and North Park (37th).

The 40th Ward event comes as an ongoing investigation by Block Club Chicago has led to multiple revelations of vaccine misuse at the West Side’s Loretto Hospital, where hospital executives have redirected vaccine doses to their personal contacts rather than vaccinating residents of the hard hit surrounding community as intended. Instead, the doses went to members of a suburban church, workers at Trump tower, the owners and workers at a Gold Coast jewelry store and a high-end steakhouse, and a doctor’s suburban family members.

CDPH has suspended vaccine shipments to Loretto, and has also cut off Innovative Express Care, which took 6,000 doses allocated for CPS teachers and used them to vaccinate others.

Jessica Peters, 40th Ward Chief of Staff, said that the inspiration for this event was a similar one held on March 12th by 2nd Ward Alderman Brian Hopkins and Jewel-Osco. However, while that event was held at a 2nd ward location, there was no priority given to 2nd ward residents. Eligibility for that event was limited to any Chicagoan 65 and older, or in Phase 1a or 1b. Also, included was anyone 16 or older who lived in one of five priority zip codes: 60608, 60619, 60620, 60649 or 60653. These were the same zip codes given priority by CDPH for the United Center vaccination and are all located on the South and West sides.

Representatives for Jewel-Osco and the Chicago Department of Public Health did not respond to requests for comment.

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