Congressmen to feds: What now for suburbanites with United Center suddenly limited?
Eleven Democratic members of Congress complained to the Federal Emergency Management Agency on Friday about its decision to exclude collar county residents from the popular United Center mass COVID-19 vaccination clinic in Chicago.
Until Sunday, March 7, federal, Chicago and state officials had promoted the clinic as open to all Illinoisans age 65 and older and people with serious medical conditions.
Many suburban seniors had secured appointments before FEMA pulled the plug Sunday amid concerns participants didn't meet federal goals of vaccinating vulnerable communities hit hard by COVID-19, including residents on Chicago's West Side where the stadium is located.
"Many of our constituents who fall in the vulnerable category, but who don't live in Chicago, felt frustrated with the recent determination to limit eligibility at the United Center Federal Mass Vaccination Center for Illinois residents outside of the city and county," a letter written by U.S. Rep. Brad Schneider of Deerfield and 10 other lawmakers stated.
"Their confusion was exacerbated with the abruptness of the announcement, and the consequent uncertainty surrounding their future access to a vaccination appointment."
Co-signers include U.S. Reps. Sean Casten of Downers Grove, Bill Foster of Naperville, Robin Kelly of Matteson, Raja Krishnamoorthi of Schaumburg, Marie Newman of LaGrange, Jan Schakowsky of Evanston, and Chicagoans Danny Davis, Jesús Garcia, Mike Quigley and Bobby Rush.
Seniors were eligible to make appointments March 4, and the next group, people with significant health problems such as cancer, had been scheduled to begin signing up Sunday.
FEMA Acting Regional Administrator Kevin M. Sligh said the agency is "committed to the equitable distribution of vaccines. Using data from CDC's social vulnerability index, the vaccination site was located in the city of Chicago, and an additional allocation of vaccines was made, to reach the most socially vulnerable communities.
"The decision to change course on registrations had to be made quickly because delaying the decision would only have ensured that the most socially vulnerable Illinoisans would be excluded from this particular effort," Sligh said.
FEMA agreed to provide federal mobile sites in locations including the collar counties and to dedicate vaccine doses for that purpose, but no details have been offered about dates and locations.
The lawmakers asked for plans about future vaccination sites and whether the United Center facility, which debuted Tuesday, will stay open beyond the eight weeks originally announced.
"Pockets of vulnerability exist all across our state, both in the collar counties and downstate, and each of us represent underserved, socially vulnerable Illinoisans that are all hoping for timely and straightforward access to the vaccine," the delegation wrote.
United Center vaccination appointments for seniors made before the change will be kept. Suburban Cook residents also are still eligible for vaccines at the stadium through the Cook County health department, but the agency has yet to release plans for how people can access shots.