Changing eligibility for vaccine at United Center sparks outpouring of calls to 41st Ward service office
by BRIAN NADIG
Alderman Anthony Napolitano (41st) said that his office has been "inundated" with calls this week from seniors and residents with underlying conditions who could not make a vaccine appointment at the United Center because they reportedly were told that reservations were limited to those living in five West and South Side ZIP codes.
"It started blowing up yesterday," Napolitano said of the phone calls.
Representatives of the 45th and 39th Ward aldermanic offices said that they have not been receiving similar complaints.
On March 10 the city was working with community partners to distribute fliers in 60608, 60619, 60620, 60649 and 60652 ZIP codes promoting that any adult living in those codes was eligible to get the vaccine at the United Center and that "if you don’t reside in the ZIP codes listed above, your appointment will be canceled."
The flier included a voucher code that residents in those areas could use when booking their appointment.
However, on March 11, Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration sent an e-mail to aldermen explaining the appointment procedures "moving forward" for the United Center, 1901 W. Madison St.
The e-mail stated that any Chicago resident who is age 65 and older or a frontline essential worker or who has an underlying condition can book an appointment. Seniors can call 312-746-4835 for an appointment, and the others can use Zocdoc, an online reservation system.
The e-mail also included the special procedures for those living in the five areas listed on the flier.
The launch of the reservation system for the United Center has been marked with confusion and multiple rule changes. A few days ago, Lightfoot said only people who live in the city can get the vaccine because too many were signing up from outside of the city.
"We wanted to also make sure that a United Center on the West Side, actually was being utilized by people in the city of Chicago, who also looked like the surrounding area," Lightfoot said.
Because the vaccination site is part of a federal partnership, 40 percent of the doses administered are supposed to go to those living outside the city, and Cook County has said that it will be issuing new appointment guidelines for the United Center.
Napolitano said he suspects the e-mail was in response to the "upheaval we got in the office and they must have gotten as well" from people who were denied a vaccine appointment at the United Center even though they qualified under the initial criteria.
"When inquiring for an appointment at the United Center, they are being denied due to their ZIP code and because they don’t ‘look like the surrounding area’ of the United Center," Napolitano said, referring to what Lightfoot has said.
Napolitano said on his Facebook page that "the virus does not discriminate" and that the requirements to get the vaccine should be the same for everyone in the city.
Napolitano’s comments sparked a variety of responses on his Facebook page. One poster called it "local fear mongering at its finest," while another said "my parents lives matter too, regardless of where they live."
The city Department of Public Health issued the following statement, "Equity continues to drive all vaccine distribution in the City of Chicago. The mass vaccination site at the United Center was chosen because it is easily accessible and would be available to some of the hardest hit, most COVID-burdened communities.
"But when we and our partners from FEMA, the State of Illinois and Cook County saw that more than 60 percent of appointments made in the first few days were going to people living outside Chicago, we decided to double down on our efforts on equity."
It should be noted that the statement from the health department contradicts some of the information in the mayoral e-mail, as the department states that the United Center is only for those living in the five ZIP Codes or any Chicago resident age 65 and over.
Napolitano said that it is time to have the same vaccination criteria for all of the city. "Let’s vaccinate as many people as possible so we don’t have to … quarantine again," he said.