Chicagoans will be able to locate vaccination sites and schedule appointments on the website zocdoc.com/vaccine.
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One week after Chicagoans over 65 became eligible to get vaccinated, one out of every 14 has been able to do so, mostly after getting a call from their primarily health providers to schedule an appointment.
"So all over this city, thousands and thousands of our most vulnerable Chicagoans have been called for a vaccine," said Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) Commissioner Allison Arwady, M.D. "And that continues to be, really, the primary way that many people are being vaccinated and will continue to be vaccinated."
But short supply means Chicago is only getting about 40,000 doses a week, and so can only vaccinate about 5,700 people a week, which means appointments are in short supply and hard to find.
"And what this looks like is people spending hours checking different websites, making phone calls, in some cases walking in and trying to find where they might be a publicly available appointment," said Richard Fine of Zocdoc. "That experience is obviously frustrating for people."
Chicago says it is the first city to partner with Zocdoc for their vaccine schedule platform, which is free to use.
Zodoc streamlines the process by searching appointment logs for you to find open slots.
"People are booking in under a minute," said Fine. "And we're very proud of that. I think that's a tremendous improvement over the hours that people are spending and then not able to find vaccine at this time."
The appointments can be made at city points of dispensing AMITA Health, Rush University Medical Center, Erie Family Health and Innovative Express Care, and sites at Chicago City Colleges such as Olive Harvey College and Malcolm X College.
It's a fraction of vaccine providers, but more are expected to join.
"Our goal in Chicago is to vaccinate as many residents as possible as fast as we can," said Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot. "While vaccine availability is still very limited nationwide, this exciting new partnership with Zocdoc is another step toward empowering individuals and families as we fight this disease and lean into the historic recovery that is sure to follow."
Minutes after the Zodoc announcement was made, all of its Chicago appointments were full, though the platform will email you at the next availability.
"As you go on, there will be times when nothing is there," Fine said. "In that case, it's OK, you can come back and you can actually put in your email and we can notify you when availability does become available."
The city says residents are still encouraged to get an appointment through their primary care provider.
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Vaccine equity remains elusive as demand outweighs supply
Equity continues to be a major goal with outreach efforts pushing the vaccination rate for Black Chicagoans from 15% to 195, and for Latinx Chicagoans from 17% to 20%.
"There's still a long way to go from an equity perspective, no doubt about it, but I'm very pleased with the progress that we've already seen," Arwady said.
With way more demand than supply, getting an appointment has become all about who has the time and the technology to make an online appointments, but the technology gap has left Black and brown communities out of luck.
University of Illinois at Chicago ER physician Dr. Marina Del Rios is part of the Vaccine Corp Partnership made up of dozens of Chicago health care organizations and community groups working to get minorities vaccinated.
"What we are trying to do is partner with credible messenger in communities that have the highest risk of infection and death in their neighborhoods," she said.
Acclivus, a South Side organization that usually focuses on combatting violence, has shifted its outreach workers to vaccines. While hesitancy remains an issue, access to the vaccine has become the biggest obstacle.
"There is some confusion on how to register for the vaccine, where do you get it, do I go to a doctor hospital," said Sheila Regan, Acclivus, Inc.
While Acclivus outreach workers will help residents navigate the online process, Vaccine Corp Partnership members said the city must think outside the box to achieve equity. Ideally, when there is enough vaccine, community groups say the key is bringing it to places people frequent the most, like churches, nail salons and barbershops. To achieve true equity, Vaccine Corp Patnership says distribution must be aligned with what people do on a regular basis.
Chicago is currently in Phase 1B of distribution, which means people over 65 and frontline essential workers are eligible to get the vaccine, along with healthcare workers and those in long-term care facilities.
Arwady also said Chicago has made tremendous progress in lowering all the key COVID-19 metrics with the average number of cases and deaths, as well as the positivity rate, at the lowest they've been in nearly four months.