Chicago steps up to vaccinate its most vulnerable populations

Jordyn Hester
5 min readApr 29, 2021

By Jordyn Hester and Ashonti Moffett

It’s been over a year since COVID-19 began to spread across the globe. With case numbers fluctuating and states going back and forth with restrictions, it was unclear when the pandemic would come to an end. However, with new developments in recent months, the light at the end of the tunnel is starting to become visible.

Chicago began its vaccination process in December, when Pfizer vaccine doses were given to five healthcare workers at Loretto Hospital. Since then, Chicago has been administering vaccine doses in phases and was first given to those deemed to be the most vulnerable to the virus. As more people are becoming eligible, more vaccine sites are opening across the city.

Sandra Munoz, a UIC campus worker, received her first vaccination dose in April at the Credit 1 Union Arena, formerly known as the UIC Pavilion.

“I had my appointment at the pavilion and everything was pretty well labeled,” Munoz said.

“The lines were short, everything went by pretty fast.”

One of those volunteers giving out vaccines at the Credit 1 Union Arena is Bolu Famakinwa, a nursing student at UIC. She also attests to the fact that the vaccination process is fairly simple for UIC students and faculty.

“You show up, you go through a registration where they give you a card because you need this card for the 1st dose and the 2nd dose” she said. “It’s pretty much done online and you can go to any one of our centers on campus.”

As for non-UIC affiliates, registration is also done online and appointments can be made at vaccination sites throughout the city.

Research has shown COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted Black and Brown communities. These vaccination sites appear more condensed in low vulnerability areas in comparison to ZIP codes with a high and medium COVID-19 Community Vulnerability Index (CCVI).

According to the Chicago Data Portal, the ZIP code with the highest COVID-19 Community Vulnerability Index (CCVI) is the 60636 ZIP code. Within this ZIP code is Chicago’s West Englewood neighborhood. When observing the cumulative percentage of completed vaccine series by zip-code population, 60636 ranked 55 out of 60 zip codes with 12.2% of its population being fully vaccinated as of April 11.

The ZIP code 60636 currently has 30,024 residents, which is almost 29,000 more people than the ZIP code who has the highest cumulative percentage of completed vaccine series at 46.7% (60603). While population can have an obvious impact on vaccination numbers per zip code, some zip codes with higher populations have a higher percentage of completed vaccine series.

60611, 60657, and 60608 are examples of some of these ZIP codes. 60611 has a population of 33,224 people, and has a cumulative percentage of completed vaccines series of 35.8%, which is about 24 percentage points above the 60636 percentage. With 60657 having over 70,000 residents and 60608 having over 80,000, both ZIP codes have almost 26% of their population vaccinated. 60611 and 60657 both have predominantly white populations while 60608 is predominantly hispanic.

Majority of the 13 ZIP codes that are high risk according to the COVID-19 Community Vulnerability Index are predominantly Black or Hispanic, with the exception of one, and has an average income of $37,090. Despite being high risk, none of these ZIP codes are ranked in the top 13 for cumulative completed vaccine doses per capita. All of those ZIP codes, with the exception of one, have a majority white population with an average income of $111,642.23.

Dr. Karriem Watson, associative executive director of Mile Square Health Center, said that Chicago has been listening to concerns expressed by these underserved communities and using the Community Vulnerability Index to close this gap.

“They then partnered with community clinics such as Mile Square and other community clinics across the city to actually distribute those vaccines in those high risk ZIP codes” he said.

The Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) and Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced Protect Chicago Plus on Jan. 25. Protect Chicago Plus is a city-wide vaccine distribution initiative that targets 15 communities that are considered vulnerable and high risk according to the COVID Vulnerability Index. Among these 15 communities, Englewood, West Englewood, Back of the Yards, and Humboldt Park are a part of this number.

“I think the Protect Chicago Plan is responding to what we’re seeing in terms of those disparities,” Watson said. “I just think that the disparities are so great that it was hard to identify every single community that carried a greater burden of COVID-19, but their ability to utilize what I think was an objective way looking at the social vulnerability index, I think that was a good way to do it.”

Since the vaccine first became available, Chicago has been making an effort to target the communities in which are most vulnerable and susceptible to catching the virus, but also those whose jobs require them to be around others on a daily basis such as healthcare workers and other frontline working employees. Vaccines have become readily available at university centers, pharmacies, clinics, and mass vaccination centers all across the city provided by the federal government.

When asked about the efforts being taken to address people in homelessness being qualified to take the vaccine, Watson said “… while we don’t have a vaccine outreach for the homeless and housing insecure population, we do have a substance abuse and behavioral health program that we partner with Night Ministry on and Night Ministry has been a part of some vaccine outreach.”

Although the homeless population wasn’t directly included in the rollout phases of the COVID vaccine, there are still measures on a community level that are being taken to assure that they are being included in the processes of receiving the vaccine.

“The state health departments, when it comes to testing, when it comes to vaccines, I think that from the Illinois Department of Public Health and the Chicago Department of Public Health in the City of Chicago. I think that they are listening to those communities that have high risks and

I think that they are doing a really good job of working with community partners to address those communities that have access issues.”

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Learn More

You can find additional information in regards to the COVID vaccines on Chicago’s Department of Health website.