Thousands of seniors in Chicago public housing get their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine: ‘I can’t wait to see my family’

Laura Rodríguez Presa, Chicago Tribune
·4 min read

For the first time since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, dozens of people gathered in the community room at a public housing building for senior citizens in South Chicago.

The room had been turned into a COVID-19 vaccination clinic and each of them patiently waited to get their first dose of the vaccine.

The first thing 73-year-old Idalia Osorio is planning to do after she gets her second dose of the Moderna vaccine is have her family visit from Puerto Rico.

“I can’t wait to see my family,” Osorio said a few minutes after getting her vaccine Thursday morning at Mahalia Jackson Apartments, a public housing building for seniors that has been her home for three years.

The Chicago Housing Authority is providing vaccination clinics in all 44 CHA senior buildings across the city in partnership with the city Health Department, to ensure that all residents, their caretakers, and staff can get vaccinated against coronavirus.

Along with Osorio, roughly 90 other residents, the majority African American, got vaccinated Thursday at Mahalia Jackson, 9141 S. South Chicago Ave, making a total of almost 3,000 residents and staff vaccinated across the city, said Venis Frazier, director of senior services for the agency.

By the end of March, residents at all 44 senior CHA buildings are expected to have had the opportunity to get vaccinated on-site, Frazier said.

Older people, more vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19, have disproportionately died during the pandemic. The Tribune reported in 2020 that retirement homes had seen a large number of COVID-19 deaths and residents of some buildings complained about a lack of communication from building owners.

But in CHA buildings, outbreaks have been “not as bad as we anticipated because we took all precautions necessary,” Frazier said.

Taking the vaccination clinics to the buildings ensures all residents, who are at high risk of contracting coronavirus because of their age, have access to the vaccines as quickly as possible, Frazier said. And although it is optional, Frazier said that most residents “are optimistic” and want the vaccine because “they want to go back to some normalcy.”

The program is another effort from the city to distribute the vaccines to seniors and to those in communities that were most disproportionately affected by the deadly virus, Frazier added.

This week Cook County officials also launched a new mobile vaccination program that will provide similar types of vaccination clinics to housing and urban development-subsidized senior homes in suburban Chicago.

For many seniors and those who take care of them, getting the vaccine is finally a reason to smile and feel more at ease.

Monica Ramirez, a caregiver who watches over Osorio, said she had been looking for the vaccine but had no luck in registering for an appointment.

Her main concern, she said, was making sure she could take care of the people she cares for. So when she learned both she and Osorio could get vaccinated on the same day, the two were “very happy.”

“I’m just glad they know how important it is for people like me to get vaccinated because we work around so many people that are so vulnerable,” Ramirez said.

“She’s like my daughter,” Osorio said as she glanced over to see Ramirez across the room.

The two were waiting for the green light from the nurse who administered their shot to go back to Osorio’s apartment.

After a while, Ramirez walked over to Osorio and pushed her wheelchair as the two chatted and smiled.

In the far left corner, Mary Ann Darjean, 73, stared out the window.

She said she had mastered looking out the window during the pandemic “because there was nothing else I could do,” Darjean said.

“But with vaccination, maybe finally my children would be able to come to visit me,” she said.

The grandmother has isolated herself since the pandemic began and asked her children to not visit.

Darjean said that until she gets her second dose of the Moderna vaccine, she will continue to wear her face mask and stay in her apartment.

“Until then, I’ll keep watching people from my window, we have to be careful,” Darjean said. “At least I didn’t have to go out to hunt for a vaccine.”

Larodriguez@chicagotribune.com