United Center to be COVID vaccine site, White House says

NBC Chicago
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United Center to be COVID vaccine site, White House says originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

Chicago's United Center will be turned into a mass COVID-19 vaccination site, the White House announced Friday.

In a partnership between Illinois and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the United Center will open on March 10, according to the White House. It is expected to vaccinate 6,000 individuals a day.

Further details, including who is eligible and how to sign up, were not immediately available. A coalition of state, local and federal officials were expected to deliver a joint update late Friday morning.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth, as well as Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and FEMA's Region 5 Administrator Kevin Sligh are expected to deliver the update at 11:30 a.m. at the Thompson Center in downtown Chicago.

“We are proud to partner with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the City of Chicago, Cook County, and State of Illinois leadership, to transform the United Center campus to help expedite vaccine distribution," according to a statement on behalf of Jerry Reinsdorf and Rocky Wirtz, co-chairs of the United Center joint venture.

"From the onset of this pandemic, the United Center’s team of dedicated professionals have worked tirelessly with relief agencies, first responders, City, County and Federal agencies and the public on a wide array of initiatives to support the region’s Covid-19 relief efforts. It is our hope that by partnering with FEMA to create a mass vaccination center, we are one step closer to putting this pandemic behind us. We are grateful for the dedication of our United Center professionals, and our incredibly supportive vendors and partners, to help turn these plans into a reality. Without their support this effort would not be possible.”

The United Center is one of 18 "federally-established community vaccination centers" across the country that President Joe Biden's administration highlighted Friday as either recently opened or opening in the coming weeks. Those 18 sites will have the capacity to administer a total of 61,000 shots per day, the White House said.

Those sites, including the United Center, were selected based on a range of criteria including the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's "Social Vulnerability Index."

That index helps officials "identify and map communities that will most likely need support before, during, and after a hazardous event" taking into consideration "critical data points, including socioeconomic status, household composition, minority status, languages, housing type and transportation," the White House said.

The governor's office on Thursday applauded the Biden administration for "efforts to launch high capacity vaccination sites across the country are essential to equity,"

"[Gov. Pritzker] appreciates the robust collaboration with the President and his team," the governor's office said in a statement. "Our partners at Cook County and in the City of Chicago are also essential to our collective success, especially as we work together to make sure we’re ready to use the increasing supply of vaccine in the most equitable way possible."

Chicago itself announced Thursday a new partnership with Prism Health Lab "to operate COVID-19 vaccination clinics in Chicago." The $15 million contract will go toward the operation of "new mass vaccination sites in the coming months" as well as "operation of city-funded points of dispensing sites (PODs), with an option to also conduct mobile vaccination programs as needed," according to the Chicago Department of Public Health.

Chicago health officials had previously said they were looking into creating mass vaccination sites at several sports stadiums, but those venues wouldn't be used until the city gets more doses of the coronavirus vaccine.

According to Dr. Allison Arwady, commissioner of the CDPH, the department looked into hosting mass-vaccination sites at Wrigley Field, the United Center and Soldier Field, but planned to wait until the city’s allotment of vaccines increases.

“We are completely ready to stand up mass vaccination sites, but it’s about vaccine,” she said during a Facebook Live earlier this month.

The announcement about the United Center comes one day after Illinois expanded Phase 1B of its vaccination plan, opening up eligibility to include people with certain high-risk medical conditions and comorbidities.

While the state expanded its Phase 1B, many counties, health departments and hospital systems - including Chicago and Cook County - said they would not join the rest of Illinois in increasing eligibility, citing low vaccine supply for those who already qualify.

Previously under the earlier iteration Phase 1B, residents age 65 and over as well as essential workers qualify to receive the vaccine.

While frustration has been evident - both among residents seeking their shots as well as many government and health officials - over low vaccine supply, the shipments have increased in recent days after being stymied by winter weather last week.

On Thursday, Illinois reported a single-day high of vaccinations across the state, with more than 130,000 doses administered in the previous 24 hours. Nearly 2.7 million doses of the two available vaccines have been delivered to providers in Illinois, with another 445,200 doses allocated to the federal government's program for long-term care facilities. Of those, more than 2.4 million doses have been administered statewide.

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