After days of seniors-only sign-ups for a mass vaccination site at Chicago's United Center, appointments opened to additional groups over the weekend, but a last-minute change meant only Chicago residents could access them.
Eligibility for the new vaccination site at the United Center narrowed less than an hour before the registration opened further.
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. Roughly 70,000 appointments were made available Sunday after more than 40,000 seniors booked appointments in their exclusive registration period. All 110,000 appointments have now been filled, officials say.
Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Allison 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."
During the exclusive registration period for people ages 65 and up, officials said less than 40% of the more than 40,000 appointments booked at the United Center - all of which will be honored - 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."
"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."
But Arwady said Chicago residents won't be the only ones able to get appointments in the days ahead.
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. Arwady said a press conference is expected Tuesday.
"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, but there will tomorrow at the press conference they'll be sharing some more details related to planning around that there."
For a full look at who's eligible under the expanded Phase 1B Plus, click here.
Registration is currently 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.
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.