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A view from inside the United Center’s tented vaccination site

A view from inside the United Center’s tented vaccination site. A group of Chicago community leaders Thursday called on federal officials to shift 5,000 of the 6,000 vaccine doses administered at the United Center each day to more than two dozen vulnerable communities of color where vaccination rates have lagged.

Manuel Martinez

Community Leaders Demand That Chicago Officials Take The Vaccine To The People

A group of Chicago community leaders is demanding a more equitable distribution of the COVID-19 vaccines.

During a Thursday morning press conference, the People’s COVID-19 Response Team said that Chicago’s most vulnerable communities have been shortchanged in the vaccine distribution rollout.

Dr. Howard Ehrman, who organized the press conference, called on the federal government to move 5,000 of the 6,000 daily doses being administered at the United Center to neighborhoods that have been the hardest hit by COVID-19.

Ehrman said the Federal Emergency Management Agency should move vaccines to “high-vulnerability, high-risk communities of African American and Latinos, not keep them centralized — where it’s very difficult, first, for people to get an appointment who don’t have online access and, secondly, to get there.”

Ehrman said things like internet access and a lack of transportation to the United Center are barriers that can easily be avoided.

Ehrman noted that other vaccination models are working around the country. He also said the city has done successful vaccination campaigns in the past. He said, in 1963, the city’s public health department vaccinated over 300,000 people for polio within 12 hours on a Saturday. He said every public school and every public building in the city was a vaccination site.

“No one had to walk more than a few blocks,” Ehrman said, adding that that model should be implemented in the neighborhoods hardest hit by the pandemic, including Little Village where he lives.

The group has drafted the “Take the Vaccine to the People Ordinance” and said it plans to introduce the measure to the Chicago City Council.

The proposed ordinance calls on the city to use federal money to rebuild the city’s public health system by establishing permanent community vaccination sites, to be operated by the city’s public health department, with priority given to 26 communities of color deemed by city officials as the most vulnerable to COVID-19.

A January report from the city noted that residents of those “high vulnerability” communities were three times more likely to die from COVID-19 than those living in 25 “low vulnerability” communities, largely majority-white areas on the city’s North, Northwest and Southwest sides. However, city vaccination data shows that residents of low vulnerability communities have been more likely to get vaccinated than their counterparts in high vulnerability communities.

The group’s proposed ordinance also calls for the city to form community vaccine brigades — of nurses and other community workers to educate and vaccinate residents in the hardest-hit communities — and workplace vaccination brigades that would be set up in places like manufacturing plants.

“We need to demand a plan that we are going to detail and that we’re going to bring on Monday,” said Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez, 25th Ward. “What we need is the political willingness of every single city council member to vote to advocate for their communities, not for the privatizers, not for those who are connected, not for those who have clout, but for our constituents, for our essential workers and seniors.”

Lonette Sims, co-chair of Black Women Organizing for Power, said she’s disappointed by how local leaders have handled the pandemic response.

“The city of Chicago has failed Chicagoans … especially the essential workers who make this city run,” Sims said. “The city hasn’t learned from the lessons from the 1995 heat wave.”

In July 1995, temperatures reached record numbers for five consecutive days. It became the deadliest heat wave in U.S. history, killing more than 700 people. Most of the victims were elderly Chicagoans from the city’s poorest neighborhoods. Critics said city leaders downplayed the danger.

María Inés Zamudio is a reporter for WBEZ’s Race, Class and Communities desk. Follow her @mizamudio.

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