Chicago mayor downplays vaccine allocations concerns after cutting off supply to CPS provider

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CHICAGO (WLS) — Mayor Lori Lightfoot downplayed concerns about how the city is monitoring vendors who distribute vaccine from the city after problems with the vaccine vendor for Chicago Public Schools.

It comes after the city cut off the vaccine supply for Innovative Express Care for “knowingly misallocating” thousands of doses meant for CPS employees.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Wednesday the city has a robust oversight system to monitor those who are getting vaccines from the city – and she said they have a right to demand that those with contracts play by the rules. When providers don’t play by the rules, they will be cut off, she said.

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Chicago Dept. of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady clarified what Innovative Express Care did wrong that led to them being cut off.

“First, they were using doses that had been allocated for the CPS vaccination project for non-CPS employees,” Arwady said. “And secondly, they had been misrepresenting their second-dose needs, then using those vaccines instead as first doses, including vaccinating in settings that would not be prioritized by CDPH without our knowledge.”

Governor Pritzker also weighed in, stressing the need for any vaccine distributor to follow the guidelines set out by the state or the city.

Innovative Express Care has a $5 million dollar contract with CPS to vaccinate school employees, but now that their supply has been cut off, thousands of CPS workers are scrambling to get either their first or second dose.

The Founder of Innovative Express Care – who took part in a vaccination event a week ago at one of four school sites set up to give shots to CPS employees – fired back on Facebook, saying the company did not misallocate 6,000 doses and blamed the problem on a communication breakdown.

“All vaccine doses that were not used by CPS, at the end of each week went to another eligible patient for their first dose,” said Dr. Rahul Khare, CEO of Innovative Express Care. “CDPH officials never made it clear to us as a provider that we should be storing vaccines in a refrigerator for people awaiting second doses.”

But the mayor said Wednesday afternoon that there was no miscommunication. CPS has now contracted with a different vendor, CIMPAR, to vaccinate CPS employees.

“There were a few hundred appointments today that needed to be rescheduled so everyone who was slated to receive a second dose today will be rescheduled for this week,” CPS CEO Dr. Janice Jackson said.

Also Wednesday, Lightfoot introduced an ordinance that would protect workers from being retaliated against by their employer if they need to take time off to get the vaccine or recover from COVID-19.

Full statement from Innovative Express Care

“We strongly disagree with the allegations made by the Chicago Department of Public Health stating a misallocation of vaccines intended for CPS staff.
“Before today, we proudly operated four CPS vaccination sites and vaccinated over 6,000 CPS employees. One of the challenge of this effort was that many CPS employees were hesitant, fearful, and resistant to getting vaccinated. The CPS executive team and I were in weekly communication about how to increase the number of employees who were encouraged to get vaccinated.

“As of last week, 100% of CPS staff members had been given an opportunity to be vaccinated due to our capacity to effectively operate a vaccine distribution effort. CPS highlighted the news of an effective partnership during a CPS event last week that celebrated the vaccination distribution. In the official press release, CPS officials stated that approximately 30% of CPS employees received vaccinations as of March 17, 2021.

“Despite our best efforts, each week we had extra vaccines due to the slow uptake in CPS employee demand. All vaccine doses that were not used by CPS at the end of each week went to another eligible patient for their first dose. We always ensured that there were enough vaccines for all CPS employees who sought one. We received vaccine allocations each week, and our intention has always been to have a 100% utilization rate in order that every single dose we received was put into the arm of a qualified patient that week. Clearly, we took this commitment very seriously, which meant that seniors, frontline essential workers, and other qualified patients received vaccines. We never departed from the commitment to CPS employees, nor other qualified individuals. However, we understand now that CDPH officials expected us to store the vaccines they allocated in order to provide second doses to CPS employees. This is where the communication breakdown occurred. CDPH officials never made it clear to us that we should be storing more than half of our weekly allotment of vaccines in a freezer for people awaiting second doses. Rather, we aimed to get as many vaccines in eligible patients’ arms, as quickly as possible.

“The decision by CDPH officials today leaves us shocked, saddened, and frankly disappointed. To be clear, Innovative Express Care has vaccinated eligible individuals in a phased approach as dictated by the City of Chicago and the State of Illinois since January. We have been learning with other health providers along the way, always adhering to medical ethics. We have worked with numerous community organizations to develop proactive scheduling for eligible individuals who live in medically underserved Black and Brown communities. Our past history as recorded in numerous media accounts and our patients’ own voices of appreciation on social media are evidence towards our positive impact. Effective vaccine distribution should be modeled, not penalized.

“We have served the Chicago region since the start of this pandemic, and we will continue to do so. We are deeply disappointed in the city’s decision to remove us as a vaccine provider. Chicago needs more vaccination sites that are distributing their doses to eligible patients, not fewer.”

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March 24, 2021 at 05:30PM

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