The number of locations in Chicago where eligible health care workers can go to get a COVID-19 vaccine is growing.
Chicago’s Commissioner of Public Health Dr. Allison Arwady announced the city would be opening two more mass vaccination sites at city college campuses this week. She did not say which ones and a spokesperson with the department did not immediately respond.
The city opened its first mass vaccination site at Malcom X College on the west side in late December.
“More than 115,000 outpatient providers signed up through their practices and we still have at least 60,000 that needed vaccines, last I looked,” Arwady said. “A lot of them are getting vaccine appointments arranged this week.”
The city is also now delivering vaccines to 250 other locations, including federally qualified health centers, out-patient clinics and independent medical offices, as well as pharmacies, including those inside Jewel-Osco, Mariano’s, and Wal-Mart.
“The goal is to start getting them vaccine so they can vaccinate their own staff, and then they can help vaccinate the outpatient healthcare workers,” Arwady said, adding that these sites will continue to serve people the next priority groups.
For now, all of these locations are still by appointment only and only for health care workers in the first priority group, known as 1a.
“We are nowhere close to being done with vaccinating 1a,” said Dr. Ali Khan, Executive Medical Director at Oak Street Health, which just started vaccinating eligible health care workers. “In just 48 hours, we had over 2,600 healthcare workers across Chicago sign up to be vaccinated by us.”
“These are dentists … home health workers … therapists … nurses. The silent majority of people who are not affiliated with health care systems, who are not affiliated with the big medical centers,” Khan added.
Early data from Chicago had indicated just about a quarter of all the people in the first priority group had rolled up their sleeves. Some hospitals have urged the city to allow them to start vaccinating people outside of the first priority group, but city officials have been reluctant to move on before more of the city’s health care workers are vaccinated.
“We have not seen everybody, by a long stretch, raising their hand to say I want to get vaccinated right away,” Arwady said. “In some of the hospitals, we’ve seen a lot of people saying, ‘I want to wait. I want to see my co workers get their second doses.’”
Most of the initial doses in late December and early January were shipped directly to large hospitals or to pharmacy partners in charge of vaccinating people who live and work in nursing homes.
Arwady said she’s hoping to see the number of people in the first priority group willing to get vaccinated will continue to increase now that many healthcare workers have gotten both doses.
But there is still a long way to go before enough people are vaccinated to reach some level of protection from the virus that causes COVID-19.
Gov. JB Pritzker said Monday that the state was preparing to move toward vaccinations in the next priority group, known as 1b. And, he said that some local health departments have already received permission to do so, after having worked through most of their health care staff.
Across the state, just about 2.2% of the state’s total population has gotten at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine, according to new data released Tuesday by the Illinois Department of Public Health.
Becky Vevea covers city politics for WBEZ. Follow her @beckyvevea.