Additional appointments are expected to become available for the United Center mass vaccination site "later this week," Chicago's mayor said, noting that appointments won't just be for Chicago residents.
"We are assessing what the equity numbers look like before we open it up and we'll give further details later this week about how it is that people can sign up ," Mayor Lori Lightfoot said as the facility began its first vaccinations Tuesday. "And these are dispersed continuing with city, county and state, but we are adjusting the numbers based upon what we see in terms of the appointments - what zip codes folks are coming from, and other demographic information."
So far, only 50,000 appointments have opened to the public over the past few days, officials revealed - a major walk-back of their initial announcement that roughly 110,000 appointments would be made available.
A last-minute change Sunday also meant only Chicago residents eligible under Phase 1B Plus guidelines could sign up as appointments expanded over the weekend, marking yet another shift from initial plans.
But Lightfoot said other residents will be eligible for upcoming appointments.
Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said Monday that suburban Cook County residents will likely be eligible.
"There is a significant number of appointments that that are being held for suburban Cook residents, but it is a requirement from FEMA that there is some equity focus even on those appointments and that's why we could not just make them all publicly available right now," Arwady said. "So I know it's frustrating for people and I know there was a lot of excitement around getting these appointments, and is still."
Officials did not specify how many additional appointments would be made available and who would be eligible in the next round, but said details would be released later this week.
Cook County said Sunday that it planned to announce the process of scheduling those appointments through the county’s COVID vaccine website "in the coming days."
Earlier this month, officials noted that appointments will be set aside for Chicago residents who live in high CCVI (COVID Community Vulnerability Index) ZIP codes as well as ZIP codes with low vaccination rates, allowing anyone from these ZIP codes to register, officials said, promising more information on that registration process later this week.
Officials also said appointment blocks will be provided to community-based organizations for targeted outreach to special populations in Chicago, including people with disabilities.
Some of the remaining doses from the United Center mass vaccination site will be given to mobile vaccination teams that will be sent to communities hit hardest by COVID-19 outside of Cook County, officials said, again noting that more information on that effort would be shared in the coming weeks.
Eligibility for the new vaccination site at the United Center narrowed less than an hour before the registration opened further Sunday afternoon.
Following an exclusive registration period for Illinois residents over the age of 65 that began on Thursday, appointments for the United Center were initially slated to expand at 4 p.m. Sunday to all Illinois residents qualified to get vaccinated under Phase 1B Plus.
But just after 3 p.m. Sunday, officials announced that eligibility would change to include only Chicago residents in Phase 1B Plus, which is anyone over 65, some frontline workers, school staff and more, or anyone 18 and up who has certain health conditions or comorbidities.
The last-minute change sparked confusion and frustration for some who had been waiting to book appointments at the new site.
Arwady said the appointment site quickly reached a peak of 300,000 hits per minute, with 754 appointments being booked every 60 seconds as eligibility expanded.
The change in eligibility was made based on additional Federal Emergency Management Agency guidance, Gov. J.B. Pritzker's office said in a statement, to "ensure equity in vaccine distribution and that the people and communities most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic have access to the vaccine."
The United Center was selected for the new vaccination site under a nationwide pilot program, which was based in part on its central location and accessibility for a "significantly medically underserved and marginalized population" to bring vaccines to "particularly vulnerable communities."
"As you know, the process opened up with an agreement between the city, the county, FEMA and the state of Illinois, that would allow people, seniors in particular 65 and older, to be able to sign up first for appointments and they were able to do that until Sunday late in the day," Pritzker said Monday. "But FEMA, you know, has decided that not enough equity was coming out of that senior population or the future of allowing everybody in the state to use that United Center site. And so, over the weekend we were informed of that, there was a lot of discussion that went on to make sure that the change was made that they wanted."
For a full look at who's eligible under the expanded Phase 1B Plus, click here.
Opening Tuesday, the United Center site will operate seven days a week for eight weeks and will be able to administer 6,000 shots per day at full capacity, officials said, noting that vaccinations would be by appointment only and that demand was "anticipated to be high." Those doses will be provided directly from the federal government and not diverted from the supply sent to Chicago or Illinois.
Vaccinations will be offered at no cost and insurance is not required, nor will it be requested at the site.
If and when more appointments become available, officials say there are two ways for Chicago residents to register: via zocdoc.com/vaccine or by calling (312) 746-4835 between 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday.