The new mass COVID-19 vaccination site at the United Center opens Tuesday, with plans to inoculate thousands of people per day at capacity.
A coalition of federal, state and local officials announced late last month that the United Center would be turned into a mass vaccination site under a new federal pilot program.
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.
An exclusive registration period for seniors opened Thursday and lasted through Sunday, during which about 40,000 Illinois residents age 65 and older signed up for appointments.
The rest of the initial 110,000 appointments were slated to expand to all Illinois residents qualified under Phase 1B Plus on Sunday afternoon, but just an hour before that registration was scheduled to open, officials announced that eligibility would be narrowed to only include Chicago residents in Phase 1B Plus, which is anyone over 65, some frontline workers, school staff and more, or those with certain health conditions or comorbidities.
After less than 40% of the appointments made during the senior registration period were made by Chicago residents, the change in eligibility was made based on additional Federal Emergency Management Agency guidance, Gov. J.B. Pritzker's office said, 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, 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.
The change sparked confusion and frustration for some who had been waiting to book appointments at the new site. The ZocDoc website also suffered 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.
Registration is now open only to Chicago residents eligible under Phase 1B Plus, though all 110,000 appointments were filled Sunday afternoon.
The list of qualifying high-risk medical conditions (which is subject to change) in Phase 1B Plus includes:
- Chronic Kidney Disease
- COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease)
- Heart Condition
- Immunocompromised State from a Solid Organ Transplant
- Pulmonary Disease
- Sickle Cell Disease
While the state expanded its Phase 1B, many counties, health departments and hospital systems - including Chicago and Cook County - said they would not join the rest of Illinois in increasing eligibility, citing low vaccine supply for those who already qualify. That means the United Center is the only Chicago vaccination site serving those with the medical conditions under Phase 1B Plus.
Previously under the earlier iteration Phase 1B, residents age 65 and over as well as essential workers were eligible to receive the vaccine. Here's a look at those who already qualified under Phase 1B:
- Residents age 65 and over
- Frontline essential workers, which means "residents who carry a higher risk of COVID-19 exposure because of their work duties, often because they are unable to work from home, and/or they must work closely to others without being able to socially distance. This includes:
- First responders: Fire, law enforcement, 911 workers, security persPDonnel, school officers
- Education: Teachers, principals, student support, student aids, day care worker
- Food and agriculture: Processing, plants, veterinary health, livestock services, animal care
- Manufacturing: Industrial production of good for distribution to retail, wholesale or other manufactures
- Corrections workers and inmates: Jail officers, juvenile facility staff, workers providing in-person support, inmatesU
- USPS workers
- Public transit workers: Flight crew, bus drivers, train conductors, taxi drivers, para-transit drivers, in-person support, ride sharing services
- Grocery store workers: Baggers, cashiers, stockers, pickup, customer service
- Shelters and day care staff: Homeless shelter, women’s shelter, adult day/drop-in program, sheltered workshop, psycho-social rehab
Here's a look at how to register once more appointments become available:
- 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.
Vaccinations will be offered at no cost and insurance is not required, nor will it be requested at the site.