Here’s Who’s Eligible Next In Chicago For A COVID-19 Vaccine

Chicago United Center vaccination
Views from inside the mass vaccination site at Chicago’s United Center on March 8, 2021. Residents in group 1c will be eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine starting March 29. Manuel Martinez / WBEZ
Chicago United Center vaccination
Views from inside the mass vaccination site at Chicago’s United Center on March 8, 2021. Residents in group 1c will be eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine starting March 29. Manuel Martinez / WBEZ

Here’s Who’s Eligible Next In Chicago For A COVID-19 Vaccine

As Chicagoans clamor for details on how to get a COVID-19 vaccine amid a scarcity of supply, Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced Wednesday that on March 29 the city will greatly expand who can get a shot.

This next phase is on time as planned, and the next eligibility group is known as 1c. It includes people at least 16 years old with certain underlying medical conditions and all essential workers.

Only Chicago residents will be able to book appointments at City of Chicago public vaccination sites, at least for the next couple of months. Anyone who lives in the suburbs and works in the city can still get vaccinated in Chicago, but it would be through their employer or physician, for example.

The expansion means the majority of city residents would be eligible for a shot. But despite this major push, Lightfoot and Chicago’s top doctor, Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady, sought to manage expectations. Many people likely won’t be able to book appointments to get a vaccine until April or May. There’s just not enough doses to go around.

“My concern as we open is that … people will think magically there is a huge supply that starts March 29, and there isn’t,” Arwady said.

But, all signs are looking good for the city’s ability to ramp up vaccinations, she said.

“I know a lot of people are anxious to be vaccinated,” Arwady said. “And I also know that April is probably going to feel frustrating for some of them, especially late April. But by late April and into May, I do think that we will be at a point that is going to start feeling more like a typical flu vaccine.”

So far, 2.6 million Illinoisans have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Of those, about 20% — or 520,000 people — are Chicagoans.

Come March 29, another 4 million people across Illinois will be eligible to get a vaccine — and nearly a quarter of that group, or 900,000, live in Chicago. Until then, eligibility is limited to health care workers, those who live and work in nursing homes, people 65 and older, and some essential workers, mainly those who can’t work from home, such as bus drivers and grocery store cashiers.

When accounting for all the people who were already eligible but have not gotten vaccinated, some 6.4 million people across the state will now be in the quest for COVID-19 shots.

Arwady encouraged seniors 65 and older to hurry up and book their vaccine appointments if they haven’t done so already. Once March 29 arrives, it will be harder to find a slot, she said.

“We’ll do everything we can to prioritize them,” Arwady said. Still, she pleaded, “If you know anybody over the age of 65, please, anywhere in the city of Chicago, we want to get folks vaccinated.”

Government leaders have appealed for patience as residents across Illinois fight to book an appointment to get a vaccine. Slots fill up within minutes. And those with time and resources have an advantage. Consider senior citizens whose kids can hop on a computer in the middle of the night to score a coveted appointment.

Besides the dizzying race of trying to find a shot, searchers have said they are confused and frustrated by the government process of actually finding an appointment.

A large vaccination site just outside the United Center sports arena, for example, at first was open to all Illinoisans 65 and older. But just a few days after the site opened this month, residents who live outside Chicago were abruptly blocked from booking an appointment. And then, specific ZIP codes within Chicago were prioritized.

Government leaders said they changed the eligibility rules because there weren’t enough Chicagoans or people of color signing up. During the pandemic, Black and Latino residents have been disproportionately affected by the virus.

Kristen Schorsch covers public health and Becky Vevea covers City Hall on WBEZ’s politics and government team. Follow them @kschorsch @beckyvevea.