COVID 19 vaccine appointments for the United Center can now be scheduled at Zocdoc.com/vaccine and by phone, while a new site in Des Plaines is also accepting new appointments.
A total of 110,000 appointments have been made available for the United Center mass vaccination site. The first appointments opened at 8:30 a.m. Thursday for seniors. After the signup period for seniors, anyone eligible for a vaccine as part of the Phase 1B+ group can begin scheduling appointments at 4 p.m. on Sunday, March 7.
As of 3 p.m., 27,819 seniors had signed up for appointments at the United Center.
To register for an appointment at the United Center, visit www.zocdoc.com/vaccine or call the multilingual hotline (312) 746-4835 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday.
"I think it's a fairer system to put all the availability out there in one place, versus having hidden pockets where you need to either work the system or work your connections," said Oliver Kharraz, founder & CEO of Zocdoc.
Chicago's Dept. of Public Health and the Chicago Fire Department are partnering on a pilot program that will bring vaccines to homebound seniors. Paramedics will administer vaccines in residents' homes if they are unable to travel to a vaccination site. Those interested can complete a survey at: https://redcap.link/MobileCOVIDVax.
While tens of thousands of appointments are available, organizers are asking for patience as massive demand threatens to overwhelm the system; the online sign up portal crashed in during the first half hour it was open.
"Some people weren't able to get through right immediately, you know, just a sign of how much demand there is for appointments," said Dr. Allison Arwady, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health. "Bu, you know, by within about 20 to 30 minutes, everything was up again and going smoothly."
For 70-year-old Paul Penzick, sign up was a breeze; it only took about 10 minutes for him to get registered for his appointment when he tried around 9 a.m.
"I was expecting a nightmare and it just flew right through," he said. "It's not so much relieved. I'm not frustrated anymore."
Gabriel Alvavara drove from Prospect Heights to the United Center site, He came looking for a number to call to secure a slot for when the site opens next week. He has diabetes and cholesterol issues.
"I'm working at Goodwill and I'm scared because everybody has the second one and I need the first one," Alvavara said.
At 8:30 a.m. Zocdoc was up and running for seniors aged 65 and over to schedule their first vaccine at the United Center. Alvavara called the multi-lingual hotline 200 times with no luck.
ABC7 tried making an appointment on Zocdoc, only to get sent in circles.
"I don't know what happened right now right here in Chicago but I'm looking for somebody to help me," Alvavara said.
Alvavara was able to get through to the phone line at 10 a.m. and was put on hold.
An organization trying to help immigrants and undocumented people get registered online also said the system proved frustrating. The alternative, calling the phone line, was even worse.
"We were on hold for so long, you know, 20, 30, 40 minutes on hold trying to get a hold of somebody," said Sarah Walker of Right 2 Family Vaccine Campaign. Andin the end, they never got through to the hotline.
Dr. Arwady said the system is equipped to handle about 600 calls at any one moment, so the amount of demand will affect how easy or difficult it is to get through.
"But keep calling," she said. "There are appointments, and then we'll work to get folks in."
Several people came to the United Center who were confused by all of the information over the past few weeks and days.
Ferry Jordan thought she had an appointment and could get vaccinated Thursday, showing up only to be turned away.
"But it's OK with all this mass vaccination," Jordan said. "I can understand that. It's not the easiest thing to do but you ask questions and you keep trying."
Officials emphasized that appointments cannot be made on site, and must be signed up for either online or by phone.
Zocdoc expects all 110,000 vaccine appointments at the UC to get booked up Thursday, with demand estimated at 300 bookings-per-minute, or more than 18,000 per-hour.
"I think there's a fair chance that all 110,000 will go," Kharraz said. "I think there's still a lot more demand for the vaccine than there's supply."
ABC 7 has learned a portion of those appointments, as much as 19%, will be dedicated to the call center. But some wish the system did more to target communities of color.
"A weighted lottery system," suggested Dr. Marina Del Rios, Vaccine Corp Partnership. "Or else at least have a list of priority people. If you are in these particular zip codes and these particular communities, then you get first dibs."
WATCH | Des Plaines mass vaccination site set to open Thursday
Located in a former K-Mart store, the new mass vaccination site in Des Plaines is one of the largest, if not the largest, in the northwest suburbs. It opens Thursday and officials hope to begin vaccinations Friday or Saturday for the people in Phase 1B.
Appointments for the Des Plaines mass vaccination site can be made starting Thursday at 1 p.m. at vaccine.cookcountyil.gov or by phone at (833) 308-1988. The site will be open Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle was joined by other public officials as she toured this new location at 1155 East Oakton Street in Des Plaines Wednesday.
The National Guard-supported site will be the first in Cook County to utilize the new Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The county is expecting 18,000 J&J doses to arrive from the federal government Thursday. The goal is to vaccinate up to 3,500 people per day.
"Because Johnson & Johnson is a single-dose vaccine, patients do not have to worry about scheduling a second appointment," said Israel Rocha, Jr., CEO, Cook County Health. "That's an advantage that we'll be able to be afforded to make sure that we can actually see even more individuals through sites like today."
"We'll continue to urge patience in this vaccination process. As we know, the vaccine supply has been limited, and while it's improving, we still cannot meet demand," Preckwinkle said.
This Des Plaines site is the fourth large-scale vaccination center in suburban Cook County, joining facilities in Tinley Park, River Grove and South Holland. That's in addition to National Guard-supported sites at several Cook County Health centers.