OPINION: Chicago’s vaccine distribution plan is organized chaos—with dire consequences



Megan Dewitt inoculates Alice Collins with the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at a Walmart in the Austin neighborhood, of Chicago, Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2021. (Pat Nabong/Chicago Sun-Times via AP)

As of this month, 27 million Americans have received their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccination. 

Illinois began the first stage of its vaccine rollout plan in December 2020 with phase 1A, which encompassed frontline healthcare workers and long-term care facility staff and residents. On Jan. 25, Illinois entered phase 1B of the plan, which includes members of the population over age 65 and frontline essential workers. 

A recent survey from ABC7 Chicago showcases the current statistics regarding vaccinations in the city of Chicago. This set of data consists of the percentage of vaccinated individuals in each zip code of the city. Upon closer inspection, the areas with the highest vaccinated populations tend to be wealthier, more developed –– and predominately white. 

This leads me to the conclusion that vaccinations in Chicago are not being distributed ethically and effectively. 

Kim Amer, a registered nurse and associate professor of nursing at DePaul University, says the problem began with the former Trump administration’s handling of the vaccination process. 

“When the vaccines started rolling in, there was so much tumult about the election, and his refusal to accept the results that that was the main focus of his administration,” Amer said. “It really is his fault.”  

As for the current administration under President Joe Biden, Amer believes they have their work cut out for them.

“Right now, what’s happening is there’s a lot of regrouping going on,” she said. “It’s organized chaos.”  

But proper planning is not the only issue. There is also the unfortunate reality of people skipping their place in line. With the anxiety surrounding the virus coupled with the desperation to return to normal life, people are adopting a “fend for yourself attitude” and taking advantage of the phasing process. 

Amer recounted a situation that unfolded while receiving her own vaccination as a frontline healthcare worker in phase 1A. An elderly woman admitted that her daughter –– a doctor –– used her vaccine code to get the woman and her three friends vaccinated. 

But what about the essential workers, like bus drivers or grocery store clerks, who don’t have a doctor in their family –– who don’t have the choice to stay home? 

These phases were constructed for a reason, with degree of necessity in mind. With the vaccine in such short supply, these guidelines need to be respected.

Additionally, the appointment process poses another problem. Almost all vaccination sites only take appointments online –– meaning those without internet access or difficulty with technology are at a major disadvantage. 

Companies like Walgreens do not take any appointments in person or over the phone. In order to get vaccinated, citizens have to use their online portal. The website only refreshes once a day at midnight, and there is only one day added at a time. 

It is a frustrating, time-consuming and ineffective process –– which is why Illinois is currently ranked 45th in the country for levels of vaccinations. 

This vaccine is legitimately a matter of life and death, and the phase we’re in now consists of vaccinating one of the most vulnerable populations. We’re essentially telling our elderly population that if they can’t get an appointment, that’s their problem. 

Amer recalled the level of difficulty it took in finding an appointment slot for her second dose, and noted she is not alone in her experience. She spent days refreshing various websites until she was finally able to find the last slot available –– two weeks from now, just before the three-week window after her first dose was set to expire. The fact that those who are on a time limit and need to receive their second dose aren’t even prioritized is unacceptable.  

However, while many are anxious to receive their vaccinations, there is also a large population that is refusing the vaccine. 

Unfortunately, in our country there is a large mistrust between minority groups and medical providers. Historically, there has been explicit racism and mistreatment of these populations, One example being the infamous Tuskegee syphilis study, which began in 1932. In the study, which is widely used as an example of unethical experimentation, Black and white participants who suffered from syphilis were studied over the course of 40 years. However, during this time penicillin was approved for the treatment of the disease. The white participants received the drug, while the Black participants were left to suffer. 

Naturally, this example and others like it throughout history are affecting minority groups’ willingness to get vaccinated. 

Currently, in the U.S., Black and Latino people are 2.8x more likely to die of Covid-19 than white people. Additionally, in the 16 states that have provided vaccination data by race, Black Americans are being vaccinated significantly less than white Americans.  

“Health disparities are ‘differences in the quality of health care that are not due to access-related factors or clinical needs, preferences, or appropriateness of intervention,’” said Jay Baglia, a professor of health communications at DePaul. 

As for the current vaccination process, Baglia said it’s a “disparity-related issue if there are poor health outcomes –– such as a higher rate of infection, hospitalization and deaths –– that can be connected to the disproportionate distribution.”

The consequences of these disparities are dire. 

“The implications are life and death, quality of life, ability to contribute to the life of the family, the community, and beyond,” Baglia said. “If efforts aren’t consciously enacted to improve our collective response to health disparities, I think the other implication is that we are not a ‘just’ society,”. 

Craig Klugman, a bioethicist and professor of health sciences at DePaul, said this is a necessary, but difficult, obstacle to overcome.

“How do we build trust among people who historically have been mistreated by the medical system, the government, and public health?” Klugman said. “There are no clear answers, but some of the proposals are having prominent members of these communities publicly get their vaccine and speak in favor of it.” Klugman said. 

He explained this as the reasoning behind why Mayor Lori Lightfoot opted to get her vaccination in front of the public. 

While there are justifiable reasons to speculate on the current vaccination process, there is hope that there will be a shift in the distribution numbers and protocol in the coming weeks. 

“In Phase 1B –– people over age 65 and frontline essential workers –– we are likely to see a shift in what neighborhoods [vaccinated] people live in,” Klugman said. “Much of the essential workforce are people of color and people of lower socio-economics, so we should see a distribution to different parts of the city.” 

The issues we are facing with this vaccination process are arduous and multi-faceted. But if we have any hope of putting this pandemic behind us, we have to tackle all of them. That means more vaccines, easier access to them, and rebuilding the flawed relationship between the medical system and minority communities. 

In Chicago, Lightfoot has developed a plan of action to tackle the latter. The rebuilding starts with making these high-risk communities a priority and getting the vaccines to them at a quicker pace. 

As a country, we need to rethink the technology and process of signing up for vaccines. The Biden administration is currently enlisting big tech companies like Apple and Amazon to make the necessary streamlining possible. 

But there’s still a long road ahead, and it’s truly going to take every person on every level before we can see this pandemic in the rearview mirror.