Less Than One-Third Of COVID-19 Vaccines Shipped To Chicago Have Gone to City Residents

vaccine
Rush University Medical Center prepares COVID-19 vaccination stations in the Brennan Pavilion area of the Hospital on Dec. 14, 2020. Manuel Martinez / WBEZ
vaccine
Rush University Medical Center prepares COVID-19 vaccination stations in the Brennan Pavilion area of the Hospital on Dec. 14, 2020. Manuel Martinez / WBEZ

Less Than One-Third Of COVID-19 Vaccines Shipped To Chicago Have Gone to City Residents

Less than 30% of the COVID-19 vaccines shipped to Chicago so far have made it into the arms of people who actually live in the city.

Moderna and Pfizer have shipped a collective 124,425 doses to Chicago as of Dec. 28, according to data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. An additional 32,000 doses are expected to arrive this week.

But just 36,531 of the doses shipped here have been injected into the arms of people living in Chicago zip codes, the data show. The remaining 87,894 doses were either given to non-city residents who work in Chicago, or are sitting in a freezer waiting to be administered. The city’s public health department did not immediately provide a breakdown.

But on Tuesday, Chicago’s Public health commissioner, Dr. Allison Arwady, said the doses that have been administered, 42% have gone to people who work in Chicago, but live outside the city limits. The remaining 58% of doses administered went to city residents.

“That’s fine because they’re working in Chicago hospitals,” Arwady said. “We’re just getting a sense of what some of these vaccination patterns are looking like.”

Arwady said early data also show white and Asian hospital workers are being vaccinated at higher rates than Black and Latino workers.

She added that fewer support staff at hospitals – like janitors and food service workers – appear to be rolling up their sleeves. It’s not clear if this is because those employees were not offered a vaccine or if they declined to get one.

As of Jan. 4, the Chicago zip codes with the highest percentage of residents who have received the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine were downtown and on the North Side. The only South Side zip codes exceeding a 2% vaccination rate are in Hyde Park and Mount Greenwood, both of which have large hospitals.

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a disproportionate toll on African Americans and Latinos in Chicago. For months, city officials have been emphasizing their intent to distribute the vaccine equitably.

But early distribution is not entirely up to city officials.

Federal regulators spell out who can get the vaccine first. That’s because both vaccines are only approved for emergency use and that comes with specific priority guidelines. Also, the logistical realities of distribution created a system that funnelled early vaccines to employees of large, private hospitals – not to residents of the hardest-hit communities or even to smaller, community-based health providers.

Arwady said demographic disparities are more evident at some of the city’s larger hospitals. But she added that smaller, safety-net hospitals that serve predominantly Black and Latino communities are seeing the highest rates of people in those demographics taking the vaccines.

Arwady said her department is urging hospitals to keep offering doses to all employees, including those in support roles.

Lightfoot said the city is also ramping up its vaccine outreach campaign, with community leaders helping share information about the safety and importance of COVID-19 vaccines.

“We need to secure the trust of our Black and brown residents so they feel comfortable receiving the vaccine,” Lightfoot said. “The fact of the matter is that many of our Black and Latinx residents have a very understandable skepticism about the safety of receiving COVID-19 vaccines. A skepticism that is rooted in a long and terrible legacy of racism and abuse in the medical community.”

But at the end of the day, Lightfoot said the city simply needs more doses in order to meet its goals for equitable distribution.

“We do not have enough vaccine,” Lightfoot said. “There must be an exponential increase in the amount of vaccine that is available to cities and towns all over this country.”