UChicago Medicine vaccinates over 20,000 people

In the seven weeks since receiving its first allocation of COVID-19 vaccine, the University of Chicago Medicine has vaccinated 20,483 healthcare workers and patients, including 5,971 who live on the city’s South Side. That accounts for 11.4% of all individuals who have received their first dose citywide and 18.1% of those on the South Side who have been immunized after the vaccine arrived in Chicago on Dec. 14, 2020.

Thousands of patients have been streaming steadily each week into UChicago Medicine’s Vaccine Clinic for their appointments since the mid-January launch of its patient vaccination program. Among them is 94-year-old Mary Gomez, who lives in Chicago’s East Side neighborhood with her 95-year-old husband. She said they were getting the vaccine so that they could stay strong and healthy.

“I am so glad we came in for care and for the vaccine,” Gomez said with a broad smile, adding that getting vaccinations together with her husband felt like being on a date. “From start to finish, it was a beautiful experience … and they had our second appointment ready when we left.”

The latest vaccination numbers were released as UChicago Medicine prepares to mark a milestone in the total number of doses administered since receiving its first allocation of the two-dose Pfizer vaccine on Dec. 17, 2020. From the launch of its program through Feb. 4, UChicago Medicine has administered 29,872 doses. It expects to surpass 30,000 doses by the end of Feb. 5.

“It has been clearly documented that the COVID-19 pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on Black and Latinx communities, with a relatively greater number of infections, more serious clinical manifestations and worse outcomes,” said Kenneth S. Polonsky, MD, Dean and Executive Vice President for Medical Affairs at the University of Chicago. “In light of these characteristics of COVD-19 from a public health standpoint, it is critical that our Medical Center exert special efforts to ensure that there is appropriate access to the vaccine for communities most impacted by the disease.”

Initial vaccine distribution was restricted to frontline staff, per federal and local vaccine allocation plans and guidelines. Since then, 9,403 UChicago Medicine personnel have been vaccinated along with more than 1,500 unaffiliated healthcare workers under age 65.

Following authorization by CDPH, the academic health system implemented a broad program to vaccinate patients beginning Jan. 18. Recognizing the devastating impact COVID-19 has had on communities of color, UChicago Medicine first focused its vaccination program on patients from South Side ZIP codes, starting with people over the age of 75 and then moving to those over age 65, before expanding to all patients over age 65 from any ZIP code.

“We’re using all the vaccine we can get but aren’t sacrificing equity within our distribution process,” said Stephen Weber, MD, Chief Medical Officer and co-chair of UChicago Medicine’s vaccine allocation committee. “We hope to improve health equity with the vaccine on the South Side and, ultimately, save lives from this devastating disease.”

To date, more than 20,700 patients who live on the South Side have been offered the vaccine. Of the 5,971 who have received their first dose, 70% are Black or Latinx. In looking more broadly at UChicago Medicine’s entire eligible patient base, 9,537 patients have received the first dose of the vaccine. Among that group, 50% are Black or Latinx. Thousands of additional patients have appointments scheduled throughout February.

Vaccine Hesitancy

Although these numbers are encouraging, they also highlight how much more needs to be done.

“Many who are hesitant to receive the vaccine are concerned about the rapidity with which this vaccine was developed and the short duration of follow-up since vaccinations began,” said Brenda Battle, UChicago Medicine’s Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer and Vice President of the Urban Health Initiative. “Some want to wait and see how the initial rollout progresses, and others do not trust the medical community or are suspicious of the role of the federal government in vaccine development. Unfortunately, these fears and concerns can be most prevalent in the communities at highest risk.”

To build trust in the community and throughout the city, UChicago Medicine is deploying a number of tactics to inform and educate patients and the public. These efforts include:

  • E-newsletters are being sent to 10,000 community members each week with educational and informational vaccine content.
  • A Community Grand Rounds was held last week with two UChicago Medicine physicians, representatives from the Chicago Department of Public Health and the Chicagoland Vaccine Corps, and a COVID survivor. About 250 community members signed up to attend.
  • Trusted messengers from UChicago Medicine — including community health workers, physicians, nurses, residents, medical students and others — are being enlisted to be liaisons between public health and medical professionals and the community.
  • In parallel to these trusted messengers, the Medical Center is working with and training individuals who are seen as trusted voices by community members, such as faith leaders, violence recovery specialists, public allies and local celebrities.
  • Outreach will include use of church services, virtual town halls, mainstream media, digital and social media, and other venues to reach residents across the South Side and beyond.
  • Content is being developed for trusted messengers and trusted voices to use. This includes educational and testimonial videos, public service announcements on TV and in newspapers, community radio programming, FAQs to address concerns and misconceptions, and much more.
  • A “speakers bureau” of UChicago Medicine experts are available to talk to employee and community groups about how COVID-19 vaccines were developed, why vaccines are important and what to expect during and after shots are administered.

To help on a broader level, UChicago Medicine has joined the Chicagoland Vaccine Corps, made up of representatives from public health, academic medical centers, safety-net providers, federally qualified health centers (FQHCs), philanthropic and community-based organizations, among others. This group is working to create consistent messaging, shared guides for community conversations, FAQs and additional material so individuals across Chicagoland get the same information, whether they hear it on the South Side, West Side or in the suburbs. UChicago Medicine is also represented on the Illinois Department of Public Health’s Vaccine Ambassadors program, which has similar goals for statewide vaccine outreach and education, and is part of national and local education and public-health campaigns already underway to address vaccine hesitancy.

“It is imperative that we listen to the community, address their concerns with sensitivity and understanding, and work hard to build trust,” Weber said. “Only then can we better instill confidence in science, vaccines and the distribution process among those who are hesitant about receiving the vaccine.”

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