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The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is administered to medical workers

The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is administered to medical workers at Loretto Hospital in Chicago on Dec. 15, 2020. The hospital has since lost its vaccine supply after controversies.

Jose M. Osorio

Loretto Hospital Let Partner In COVID-19 Clinical Trials Take Doses Home

In the latest controversy over alleged favoritism in its distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, Chicago’s Loretto Hospital acknowledged Monday that some of its doses were given at home to family members of a west suburban businessman overseeing the hospital’s clinical trial of the Pfizer vaccine.

In response to questions about the incident from WBEZ, a spokeswoman for the embattled hospital in the West Side Austin neighborhood confirmed that the vaccinations involved Ali Ahmed, the president of Oak Brook-based Affinity Health.

Ahmed and his company have partnered with Loretto on a widely touted clinical vaccine trial and he took 10 vaccines from the hospital for family members a couple months ago, according to the statement.

“A request by a hospital partner to vaccinate a terminally ill woman and nine other individuals, including her family members, was made in late January and was approved by a former executive who is no longer employed at Loretto,” a spokeswoman for the hospital said in a statement. “While information provided at the time deemed that these individuals were eligible per city vaccination guidelines, Loretto is no longer approving off site visits that aren’t either hosted by the hospital or community partners and organizations.”

Ahmed did not return WBEZ’s messages seeking comment Monday.

The new incident with the clinical trial doses adds to a long list of issues with vaccinations at the hospital, which serves a low-income, predominantly Black community in the Austin neighborhood.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot already has cut off the flow of vaccines to Loretto after the hospital admitted making “mistakes” in offering shots to what Lightfoot called “well-connected individuals” who were not yet eligible under city and state guidelines, including Trump Tower workers and Cook County judges.

The multiple incidents of people jumping the line for the sought-after vaccines led to the resignation of a top Loretto administrator, Dr. Anosh Ahmed (who is not related to Ali Ahmed), last week.

Now, Loretto says Anosh Ahmed “solely” gave permission to Ali Ahmed to take home the vaccines that were administered to relatives and others. Anosh Ahmed did not immediately respond to WBEZ’s requests for comment.

Ali Ahmed requested the 10 vaccines on Jan. 27 and they were administered on Jan. 29, the hospital said.

Loretto has partnered with Affinity on clinical trials for various drugs since 2018 and widely advertised that it was working with Ahmed’s company on the coronavirus vaccine trials, beginning late last year.

Since Affinity partnered with Loretto on the COVID-19 vaccine clinical trial, Ahmed has participated in several media interviews to promote vaccinations at the hospital, which is located at 645 S. Central Ave.

“We were all very excited that we were able to vaccinate the first people here in Chicago,” Ahmed said in an interview with WGN-720 AM radio on Dec. 15.

Ahmed said he has been working with Loretto to expand access to new drugs and vaccines to residents of Austin and other West Side communities.

“We’re very proud of the fact that over the last three years we have provided many opportunities for people to get free access to health care, free medication and really top care by physicians,” Ahmed said.

Ahmed also appeared on another radio show promoting the COVID-19 vaccine trial with Loretto’s president, George Miller, on WCPT-820 AM.

On its website, Affinity touts the partnership with Loretto and seeks participants in the trail there on the site’s home page: “Join the fight against the COVID-19 global pandemic!”

Dan Mihalopoulos is a reporter on WBEZ’s Government & Politics Team.

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