As Chicago heads toward fully reopening, there are still more than a dozen communities where less than a third of the population is vaccinated.
That’s why city officials and community groups are again teaming up to do hyperlocal outreach efforts in 13 neighborhoods, mostly on the South Side, to boost COVID-19 immunizations this summer.
“Now, vaccine is not the limit but making sure that we’re making it convenient for people and getting their questions answered is,” said Dr. Allison Arwady, Chicago’s Commissioner of Public Health, on Friday.
The 13 neighborhoods being blitzed with vaccine door knocking and events are: Auburn Gresham, Austin, Chatham, East Garfield Park, Englewood, Hegewisch, Montclare, Riverdale, Roseland, South Deering, South Shore, West Englewood and West Garfield Park.
The effort is being dubbed as an extension of the Protect Chicago Plus program, which recently ended. That effort, launched back in February, targeted 15 communities that were deemed to be highly vulnerable to COVID-19 infections.
“We saw really good success with that first round of 15 communities that we focused on,” Arwady said. “We had really good uptake early, especially when vaccine was very limited.”
But while Protect Chicago Plus successfully boosted vaccination rates in many of the targeted communities, some of the same neighborhoods are again included in the new summer outreach plan. They include: Austin, West Englewood, Englewood, Roseland, Montclare and South Deering.
Arwady said the goal is to get 70% of Chicago adults at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by the Fourth of July. Right now, she said, that number stands at 63%.
“I’m not sure we’re going to get there but we’re going to get as close as we can,” Arwady said.
Citywide, more than 42% of all Chicagoans, including children, are fully vaccinated. Children 12 and older only recently became eligible to get one of the three authorized COVID-19 vaccines. According to the city’s vaccination data, there are 12 ZIP codes where fewer than 30% of all residents are fully vaccinated. Two include the suburbs of Riverdale and Elmwood Park, for which data is suppressed. Of the remaining 10, eight are on the South Side.
Black communities in Chicago have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, with some of the highest rates of cases, hospitalizations and deaths over the last year.
South Side resident Lisa Butler knows that firsthand.
“I am someone who contracted COVID-19 and it literally took me from May of last year until about maybe September last year to really start feeling better,” Butler said at a news conference Friday.
Butler is one of several workers who in the past worked with the city’s contact tracing corps and will now shift to doing vaccine outreach.
“We’re going to knock on every door until one day Dr. Arwady comes on the news and says we do not have one case of COVID today,” she said.
The low vaccination rates in these communities is not only due to hesitation. Several South Side neighborhoods are essentially health care deserts. Data obtained by WBEZ earlier this year showed that shipments of vaccines early on were concentrated in areas with large hospitals.
For instance, the 60636 ZIP code of West Englewood got just 300 doses of COVID-19 vaccine between late December and mid-March. Doses did not make it to some ZIP codes in significant numbers until February, meaning residents were left waiting or traveling outside their community to find a shot.
Arwady said Friday she hopes the work being done around getting people COVID-19 vaccines will continue beyond this summer and have an impact on other health disparities.
“This is starting with vaccine, but we’ve got plans for this kind of community outreach, community health engagement to work on some of the other issues that are long standing,” Arwady said.
Becky Vevea covers city politics for WBEZ. Follow her @beckyvevea.