Humboldt Park group, leaders call on city to ‘save lives’ in Latino communities at greater risk from COVID-19

Community groups and elected leaders are raising the alarm on what they call a botched COVID-19 vaccine rollout in Humboldt Park and other Latino-majority communities in Chicago.

Jessie Fuentes, co-chair of the Puerto Rican Agenda, one of the activist organizations, said they understand supplies of testing materials and vaccines are limited, but still insisted the city must act now to ensure those needing the vaccine are actually getting it. Those in the Latino and Black communities who are eligible for the shot should get priority, Fuentes said, noting they also have more COVID-19 cases.

Latinos across the Chicago have the highest rates of infection compared to all other demographics with a daily positivity rate of 13.5%, according to city data. That’s more than double the citywide rate of 5.6%.

Ald. Roberto Maldonado (26th) said vaccinations in his ward have fallen severely behind, with only two hospitals able to do vaccinations. Pharmacies, including Walgreens and CVS, can do vaccinations but have become significantly unreliable with their scheduling, he said, leaving eligible people waiting up to two weeks.

What’s worse, he said, is that many being vaccinated don’t live in the community.

Just last Sunday, Maldonado said, a Walgreens in Austin, just outside his ward, had 80 doses of the vaccine ready to use, but among those receiving doses, only two were people of color.

“The rest of the people that received the vaccination were white people coming from the suburbs, even from Deerfield. How can that happen?” Maldonado said. “The city of Chicago can use its influence” with Walgreens, CVS and other pharmacies “to do a much better job of promoting the opportunity of vaccination they do have in our respected communities.”

He added that Walgreens and CVS have plenty of Latino customers, so they should also do a better job of making sure Walgreens in Latino or Black majority neighborhoods give eligible residents priority for vaccination.

The pharmacies were contracted to administer vaccines under a partnership with the federal government. Illinois residents that qualify under Phase 1a or 1b — which prioritizes shots for health care workers, essential workers like educators and first responders and those over 65 — can register for appointments at pharmacies around the state. The websites to book appointments do not appear to restrict shots to those who live in the same community a pharmacy is located.

Fraser Engerman, a spokesman for Walgreens, said the company is “prioritizing and distributing vaccines” to stores in vulnerable areas, including by working with city officials “to look at city-wide COVID-19 positivity heat maps” and communicating closely “to understand how best to respond to the local need.” However, he acknowledged there is no Chicago residency requirement for those getting shots at stores in the city.

“Vaccine inventory is still limited and we’re committed to only providing vaccinations to eligible individuals,” said Engerman. “As inventory grows, we’ll also be partnering with local and community leaders to set up even more vaccination clinics in these areas.”

State Sen. Omar Aquino, D-Chicago, said it is imperative the state, county and city act now to “save lives’ because Latino communities across the country are being affected disproportionately.

“We test at a higher rate. We are dying at a higher rate,” Aquino said.

Jose Sanchez, Humboldt Park Health’s president and CEO, said they have the staff and infrastructure for mass vaccination in greater Humboldt Park — they just don’t have enough vaccines.

“We are not getting a constant supply from the city to get the vaccines we need here in our community,” Sanchez said. “One week we get some, the following week we get nothing. Two weeks go by, we get no vaccines. We cannot have a comprehensive approach to vaccinate everyone in the Humboldt Park area if the vaccines are not available.”

The Puerto Rican Agenda put forward a four-point vaccination and education model it hopes the city will use to improve the vaccination rollout in Latino communities. Maldonado, Aquino and other elected leaders threw their support behind that plan.

It asks the city to make Humboldt Park Health, formerly Norwegian American Hospital, a vaccination hub for Latino and Black communities on the Northwest Side. The plan also suggests testing and vaccinating people “at homes, schools, nursing and senior homes.”

“Testing needs to go beyond hospitals and clinics, we need to meet people where they’re at,” Fuentes said. “We have Puerto Rican refugees in affordable housing buildings, we have elderly people in affordable housing buildings.”

The plan also includes an education campaign, sending health care advocates to ZIP codes with high rates of infection to develop trust and dispel fears of vaccinations.

Lastly, it asks the city to expand on President Joe Biden’s executive order establishing a Public Health Workforce program that trains people in contact tracing, testing and assist in vaccination outreach.

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via Chicago Sun-Times – All

February 3, 2021 at 08:23PM

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