Chicago COVID-19 vaccine: Rush University Medical Center transforms lobby into vaccination center

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Saturday, December 12, 2020
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Within 24 hours of the vaccine's arrival, the goal is to begin the process of inoculating Rush University Medical Center's 12,000 employees.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Rush University Medical Center's main lobby has been transformed into a COVID-19 vaccination center. Within 24 hours of the vaccine's arrival, the goal is to begin the process of inoculating the hospital's 12,000 employees.

"Not only do we have to figure out how to get so many people through, we have to make sure it's happening in a socially distanced manner and safe," said Lisa Weichman Harries, with Rush University Medical Center.

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Ten individual vaccination bays are lined up down a long hallway. Appointments will take between 5-7 minutes each. While the vaccination is not mandatory, Rush said most of their employees are willing to take the vaccine. They will be divided in five tiers and then split into two groups.

"For example, if there are side effects, we don't want our emergency department to be vaccinated in one day, so we are splitting in two groups," Weichman Harries said.

Putting together a vaccination plan quickly is not only a huge job for a hospital as large as Rush, but for smaller hospitals as well. St. Anthony, on Chicago's West Side, has created a vaccination allocation committee made up of a variety of employees.

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"I don't think we've ever done this at this pace before, so I think the biggest challenge is the uncertainty of all of it," said Dr. Romeen Lavani, chief medical officer at St. Anthony Hospital.

Based on employee surveys, St. Anthony's expects about 60-70% of its employees to take the vaccine. Unlike Rush, the community hospital does not have a super cold freezer to store the vaccine.

"The vaccine that comes to us will be thawed already, but the condition is: we must use the vaccine within five days of when we receive it," Dr. Lavani explained.

Because of the short window, Dr. Lavani said planning and keeping appointments are critical so the vaccine is not wasted.

Because the situation is fluid and changing quickly, hospitals big and small said the earliest they will begin vaccinating employees is Monday, but it will more likely be Tuesday or Wednesday.

Officials at University of Chicago Medicine said it could take two to three months to immunize all employees. The hospital has released a video encouraging vaccination.