Eligibility for the new United Center mass COVID-19 vaccination site narrowed less than an hour before registration opened further on Sunday, causing confusion and frustration for many seeking to book appointments.
After 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.
For a full look at who's eligible under the expanded Phase 1B Plus, click here.
The last-minute change sparked confusion and frustration for some who had been waiting to book appointments at the new site. The ZocDoc website also appeared to have a glitch on Sunday, showing appointments that were available but not allowing users to book those appointments. Some also reported that they were able to book appointments that were later canceled without explanation.
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."
During the exclusive registration for seniors, more than 40,000 people over the age of 65 booked appointments at the United Center, all of which will be honored, officials said. But less than 40% of those appointments were made by Chicago residents.
The United Center was selected for the new vaccination site, announced late last month through a partnership with state, city, county and federal officials under a nationwide pilot program, was selected based in part based on its central location and accessibility for a "significantly medically underserved and marginalized population" to bring vaccines to "particularly vulnerable communities."
"Based on the early registration data, it became apparent this was not occurring, leading FEMA to provide additional guidance related to the site to better target communities hit hardest by the virus, including ones surrounding the vaccination site on the city’s West Side," officials said in a statement Sunday.
Registration is now open only to Chicago residents eligible under Phase 1B Plus.
Here's how to register:
- To register online, visit ZocDoc.com/vaccine. The web site is projected to handle much higher volume of appointment requests. Zocdoc will show real-time appointment availability and eligible residents will then be able to select a date/time and book an appointment online. Date of birth will be required when booking an appointment to confirm vaccine eligibility.
- To register by phone, call (312) 746-4835. A multi-lingual call center will be available to help seniors make an appointment from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday. Given the anticipated high demand for appointments, residents who can use the website should book their appointments online, as those who need to use the call center will very likely experience lengthy wait times.
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 also be provided to community-based organizations for targeted outreach to special populations in Chicago, including people with disabilities.
Residents of suburban Cook County have been allocated appointment slots at the United Center as well, officials said, but cannot yet register. Cook County will announce the process of scheduling those appointments through the county’s COVID vaccine website "in the coming days," they said Sunday. Individuals who can’t access the website can call 833-308-1988 Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
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.
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.