Chicago shifts focus to vaccination opportunities, incentive

Coronavirus

CHICAGO (AP) — Public health officials in Chicago hope more opportunities and incentives to get a COVID-19 vaccine will improve the vaccination rate among people older than 65 and in the city’s largely Black and Latino communities.

“We all want to put this behind us, and getting a vaccination is the way to do it,” Dr. Allison Arwady, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, said Tuesday.

Arwady said 65% of city residents older than 65 have received at least one dose — lower than the 81% rate among that age group nationwide. She also highlighted lagging rates of people who have received at least one dose in neighborhoods on the the city’s South and West sides.

City data as of Monday showed 43% of Chicagoans had received a first dose and 29% were fully vaccinated.

“We have a lot of work to do,” both providing convenient opportunities to get vaccinated and building confidence in it, Arwady said.

Chicago’s plans include programs for homebound residents, tents at festivals or block parties, traveling buses and events geared toward college students or workers in specific industries, she said.

Mass vaccination sites will remain open for walk-ins and appointments.

Arwady said staff at the federally-backed site at Chicago’s United Center will administer final first doses on May 10 then will provide only second doses of the Pfizer vaccine and the one-shot Johnson & Johnson formula via drive-up. The city plans to continue using the United Center for drive-up vaccination once federal partners leave, she said.

The public health agency also is partnering with barber shops and beauty salons to pair beauty services with vaccination and is working on a “VaxPass” program making it easier for people who have been vaccinated to attend concerts and other large events.

The city will never require that residents be vaccinated but is looking for ways to incentivize it, Arwady said.

“I would hope that for most people their main incentive is to be able to stay healthy, keep their families healthy, keep their communities healthy,” she said. “But we also know, younger people in particular may be excited about the idea of getting into events, for example, that might be limited to people who are vaccinated.”

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