Covid-19 swept through communities of color. The vaccine has yet to do the same.
February 22, 2021
As Latino and Black Chicagoans continue to experience the highest Covid-19 death rates in the city, they are receiving vaccinations at the lowest rate.
The Chicago Public Health Department (CDPH) entered its 1B vaccination phase in accordance with its vaccination plan on January 25, allowing Chicagoans over the age of 65, frontline essential workers and those living in non-healthcare residential settings to register for the vaccine.
But data from the Illinois Comprehensive Automated Immunization Registry Exchange (I-CARE), obtained by La DePaulia, reveals that communities with the most Covid-19 deaths are receiving the fewest vaccination doses.
Charmaine Runes, director of fact-checking for South Side Weekly, has been monitoring Chicago’s daily vaccination progress through ChiVaxBot — an online Twitter bot that compares which zip codes in Chicago are experiencing the most Covid-19 deaths and which are receiving the vaccine.
“Our bot has been tracking vaccinations by full or completed series and not by a number of doses,” Runes said.
The side-by-side zip code maps reveal the health inequity and disproportionate distribution of vaccines found within Chicago’s Public Health Department plan.
“One of the highest [Covid-19] death rates in Chicago is happening in zip code 60623,” Runes said. “It includes neighborhoods like Lawndale and Little Village.”
In addition to Little Village and Lawndale, the zip code 60623 includes parts of Brighton Park and Archer Heights. According to Illinois Demographics, these neighborhoods are predominantly made up of Latino and Black residents, representing 66.8 percent and 29.7 percent of the zip code’s population, respectively.
From her data analysis and reporting, Runes said the Southwest Side and the northernmost part of Chicago are experiencing the highest number of Covid-19 deaths per capita, while communities located along Lake Michigan – except for South Shore, a predominantly Black community – have not been impacted as much by Covid-19 deaths in comparison.
Zip codes including 60649, 60626 and 60628 continue experiencing the highest Covid-19 deaths. The zip code 60649 consists of 93.0 percent Black residents and 60628 has 92 percent Black residents. The zip code 60626 is predominantly White, with 44.7 percent of residents identifying that way.
While these zip codes are experiencing significant Covid-19 deaths, they are not the areas receiving the vaccination. According to the Chicago Data Portal, 60649 has a 3.3 percent of vaccination completed, 60626 a 5.4 percent of vaccination completed and 60628 a 2.2 percent of vaccination completed as of February 21, 2021.
Those zip codes receiving the highest completion vaccination rates include areas like Streeterville (60611) with a 14.8 percent of its population being completed vaccinated, Medical Center (60607) with 10.1 percent of its population, Lakeview (60657) with a 7.4 percent of its population and Loop (60603) with 12.7 percent of the population.
Although zip codes along medical hospitals like Northwestern, Rush, University of Illinois and Advocate seem to be receiving the most vaccination completion, a WBEZ report indicated that frontline medical workers under the 1A phase don’t all reside in the North Side, like Streeterville; rather, they live all across the city.
William F. Parker, assistant professor of pulmonary critical care medicine and assistant director of the McLean Center for Clinical medical ethics at the University of Chicago, told La DePaulia that if the most vulnerable populations continue not receiving the needed number of Covid-19 vaccines, the health inequity divide between communities of colors and White communities will continue to grow.
“It’s going to continue to get worse because it’s much easier for people to get access to the vaccine on the North Side right now,” Parker said. “Without drastic action, without allocating vaccine proportional to need and delivering more vaccines per person in the South and West sides, they’re not going to fix that.”
In a Financial Times article, Parker argued that if a South Side zip code has five times the death rate than one on the North Side, it should receive five times the vaccine supply.
Parker said that although the CDPH Protect Chicago Plus plan has a well-intentioned plan of identifying communities with high mortality rates and low vaccination rates, the department needs an aggressive plan to allocate the corresponding amount of vaccines to the most vulnerable communities.
According to the CDPH, the Protect Chicago Plus plan is guiding the city’s vaccine distribution to ensure that vaccines reach the communities most impacted by Covid-19. It includes targeting 15 high-need communities in the West and South Side.
“My theory about what’s happening is that they are trying to get everybody some vaccines, so it’s getting stretched thinner and thinner across the city and the city’s not getting enough,” Parker said. “But they have to make the tough choice to allocate disproportionately more vaccines to the South and West Side.”
He said that vaccination restrictions are needed to ensure that Black and Latino communities who’ve experienced the highest deaths of Covid-19 are able to sign up for a vaccination appointment.
According to Parker’s work in Health Affairs, overlapping phases, a lottery system, transparent communication and allocating vaccines proportional to need can be ways to equitably accelerate vaccine rollout.
“One recommendation is [to] use zip code data of where people live to geographically restrict who can get access to vaccines sites to get priority access to protect Chicago neighborhoods,” Parker said. “You have to put geographic restrictions on those ZocDoc web appointments. There are 100,000 people currently on the ZocDoc waitlist. We have no idea where they live, all you have to do when you sign up is say you live in Illinois and there’s no guarantee they even live in the city.”
“That’s not medical hesitancy to me, that’s a technological structurally racist design,” Parker said.
Factors like medical deserts — an area that’s 60 minutes or more from an acute-care facility — and a lack of technology are playing a part in Black Chicagoans struggling to receive access to the vaccine.
Marina Del Rios, an emergency room physician at University of Illinois Hospital in Chicago and the first person in Chicago to receive the Covid-19 vaccine in December of 2020, told La DePaulia that the narrative that the vaccine hesitancy is what’s driving the low vaccine uptake in Black and Latino neighborhoods has been misinterpreted and used as an excuse.
“The vaccine hesitancy rate does not match the vaccine distribution,” Del Rios said.
The use of an online registry, like Zocdoc, can be challenging for most vulnerable groups to access, Rios said, as reliable internet or smartphones are not guaranteed.
“Right now, the vaccine rollout has been very tech-dependent and that’s made it incredibly difficult to navigate for some of the folks that are in that 1B phase,” Del Rios said. “Especially our elderly folks and a lot of people who have language barriers and may not be able to navigate a tech-dependent almost fully English operating site.”
At a news conference, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said the number of vaccinations for Latinos and Blacks has increased from 18 percent to 50 percent as of last week as city officials continue to push for vaccinations in communities of color but the work continues.
“We still have a long way to go,” Lightfoot said according to the Tribune.
Jessie L. Fuentes, the co-chair of the Puerto Rican Agenda (PRA), said the organization is advocating to receive equitable resources to the Humboldt Park area through PRA’s four-point model to vaccinate and educate its community.
“In order to truly be able to have families feel encouraged to take the vaccine, we need to ensure that the doses are in the community,” Fuentes said. “We also need for the education to be culturally and linguistically sound that they’ll translate everything from the ingredients of the vaccination to the side effects of the vaccination.”
For non-English speakers facing a language barrier, registering and receiving a Covid-19 vaccine can be a delay due to the lack of translators and interpreters in the vaccination rollout process.
PRA said they’ve been working with the mayor’s office and with CDPH to ensure that their four-point vaccinate and educate model can become a reality and serve as a model for other communities of color.
“I’m hopeful that by focusing more resources and efforts in those communities that we may see more of a bridging,” Del Rios said.