coronavirus chicago

Chicago Launches New Mass COVID-19 Vaccination Site: Here's How it Works

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The city of Chicago on Tuesday launched its first mass COVID-19 vaccination site for health care workers as it continues to roll out thousands of doses of vaccines against the deadly coronavirus.

But you can't simply walk into the vaccination site - known as a "point of dispensing" site or "pod" - to get your shot. You'll need an appointment, and only those who meet certain criteria can get appointments at this time.

How does it work? Here's a look at how Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady explained it:

The site the city launched Tuesday is located at Malcolm X College at 1900 W. Jackson Blvd. It will be one of eight opened in partnership with City Colleges of Chicago, which is providing the locations as well as students from training schools to staff them, enabling the students to get supervised clinical experience and the city to expand its reach.

Arwady said staff from several city agencies, as well as those students, will be working as vaccinators, conducting registration, setting up appointments, answering questions and more.

Prior to Tuesday's launch, the city had been vaccinating mostly hospital employees as well as a small amount of emergency medical services personnel in the very first portion of the first phase of vaccination. Arwady said Monday that more than 20,000 doses of the vaccine had been administered since vaccinations began earlier in the month.

Those doses of the vaccine had largely been administered by hospitals themselves who received shipments directly.

But the site opened Tuesday is for health care workers who are "less likely to be connected to a larger clinic that will be more likely to get direct vaccine," Arwady said, stressing again that vaccinations at city sites are by appointment only.

"I'm sorry, you can't show up and try to get in line to get a vaccine," Arwady said. "At this point, while the vaccine is still limited in Chicago, we're in phase 1A, meaning that vaccine is only available at this point for health care workers and then for long-term care facility residents."

The city's pods are not for those who work at facilities like hospitals that are administering vaccinations themselves, Arwady said, but rather for "practices that are smaller or are not going to be traditional vaccinating partners moving forward."

Workers that meet that criteria - Arwady listed examples including a dental practice, an outpatient practice, a school nurse, a mortician's office or any other kind of health care worker in Chicago - will first need to make sure their practice is registered with the city.

The city's website has a survey for health care providers to detail the practice, staff and more information before city officials begin the process of either getting doses of the vaccine directly to the practice or by setting up appointments for employees at city sites or potentially locations run by pharmacy partners or hospitals.

Once the practice is registered, the city will give a code to the practice to enable eligible employees to make an appointment, giving basic information about their ethnicity, age and medical history in the process.

"There is no requirement for providing an identification, there is no requirement for insurance, there is no cost, no cost to anybody to get this vaccine in Chicago and there will not be a cost to anybody to get this vaccine in Chicago, no matter where you're getting it," Arwady said.

Arwady herself received the first dose of the vaccine on Tuesday, noting she wanted to do so publicly to instill confidence in the safety of the vaccine.

"I also had to answer some questions just about my medical history, any history of allergies, any history of other conditions. And if there's anything in that list that that needs some more conversation, when I come to check in, there's an additional conversation with one of the nurses or one of the clinicians here to make sure that my questions are answered," she said.

Everyone vaccinated at a city pod will be monitored for 15 minutes after they're vaccinated, or 30 minutes if the person has a history of allergies or any other concerns.

Arwady said the site will eventually be staffed by roughly 50 to 60 people and will start by vaccinating "a few hundred a day" but will increase that number in the coming weeks.

The mass vaccination sites run by CDPH will all administer the Pfizer vaccine, because they have the capability to store it at the required ultra-cold temperatures, Arwady said. The other vaccine, created by Moderna, does not require freezing temperatures for storage and thus will be reserved for outpatient practices and long-term care facilities that do not have that capability, she said.

Everyone in the U.S. who receives their first dose of the vaccination will get a COVID-19 vaccination record card from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That card will be filled out upon vaccination with the date, location, lot number (the number of the individual vial of the vaccine that the person received) and signature of the vaccinator, among other information.

Both of the available vaccines require two doses for maximum effectiveness, and Arwady said Chicago's policy is that everyone must receive their second dose at the same location as the first.

In the days, weeks and months after, Arwady said those who have been vaccinated can sign up to receive follow-up communications from the CDC via email or text message as a way to report side effects, enabling health officials to track and better understand what that may look like nationwide.

Arwady noted Tuesday that more than 2.1 million people across the U.S. have already received the first vaccine dose, again highlighting the rigorous safety standards in the FDA approval process.

Health officials have said phase 1A of the city's vaccination plan, focused on health care workers and long-term care facility residents, could potentially last through February before expanding to frontline essential workers and residents over the age of 75 in phase 1B.

Arwady said that while it may seem like a long time to wait - stressing the need to continue social distancing, wearing masks and following public health guidelines - the vaccinations and opening of the new city sites meant Chicago is moving forward.

"Please know that we are working to roll this vaccine out as fast and as safely as we possibly can: making sure that all the training is done, that all of the logistics are in place to ensure that the vaccine is kept cold, that all of the registration is there," she said.

"We're working hard, we're rolling up quickly, but I know it's hard to feel like you still have to wait. I think there may also be a little bit of a wait before we fully begin to regain our confidence. There may be a wait before this new normal really feels normal," Arwady continued. "But with this beginning of vaccination in Chicago, we are no longer fully waiting as a city. We are on this path, we are moving forward. And I'm really pleased about it."

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