Health officials 'take a pause' on future United Center vaccine appointments
Once touted as a vaccination destination for all of Illinois, the United Center's remaining 130,000-plus appointments for vaccine doses will only go to Chicago and suburban Cook County residents.
But when and how those appointments will be made available to those residents remains largely a mystery.
Health officials said about 50,000 appointments for the estimated 185,000 slots at the mass vaccination site have already been booked, but they will "take a pause" on new appointments to make sure vulnerable populations in Chicago and suburban Cook County receive priority.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency is staging the United Center site in cooperation with state and local health officials.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Tuesday at the United Center site's grand opening that mobile vaccination operations will be expanded throughout the state to make up for the lack of United Center access for residents of the state's other 101 counties, though details about those efforts were also limited.
"FEMA has committed additional support to deploy federal mobile vaccination teams to communities outside Cook County hit hardest by COVID-19," he said. "To ensure nobody is left behind, we're targeting additional state resources to counties with lower vaccination rates."
Appointments at the United Center site were halted after officials took stock of who had signed up. City and county health officials would only say appointment-taking would resume "later this week."
Dr. Allison Arwady, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, said just 37% of the appointments were Chicago residents and only about a quarter of those were Black and Hispanic residents, who are disproportionally affected by COVID-19.
"Obviously, that's not representative of the communities that have been hardest hit," Arwady said. "The decision was made among the county, state and the city in cooperation with FEMA, to take a much more focused equity approach to the remainder of these vaccines."
Health officials plan outreach in parts of the city where the most vulnerable live.
"When we get those people vaccinated, we control the spread," Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said.
Of the roughly 50,000 appointments already made, about 40,000 are for residents 65 and older. The other 10,000 are between ages 16 and 64 who are considered medically vulnerable. All of the appointments will be honored, officials said.
Some suburban leaders from outside of Cook County were not pleased by the latest developments in the vaccination rollout.
"I would remind local, state and federal officials they are failing to consider that people of all backgrounds work, worship, shop and pursue medical treatment in the city," said DuPage County Board Chairman Dan Cronin. "I would encourage them to join us in a regional approach and reconsider allowing appointments for all Illinoisans at the United Center."
However, some suburban members of Congress did not seem concerned by the change to the registration process.
"The American Rescue Plan will provide funds to ramp up vaccine distribution throughout Illinois, including in the collar counties, through community vaccination centers and federally qualified health centers, so that everyone who wants a vaccine can get one," said U.S. Rep. Bill Foster, a Democrat whose district includes large swaths of Aurora, Naperville and many southwest suburbs.
U.S. Rep. Lauren Underwood, a Naperville resident whose district covers parts of seven counties, also touted the effects of the American Rescue Plan recently passed by Congress, which she said targets $20 billion to vaccination efforts.
"As more vaccine supply becomes available, we need to quickly ramp up the number of doses that can be administered every day across northern Illinois to ensure everyone who wants one can get one as quickly and as conveniently as possible," she said.