UI Health opens community vaccination site, leads Chicago in providing shots for phase 1B

Abraham Thompson Jr. elbow bumps inoculator Timothy Hamer, a pharmacy student, after receiving his COVID-19 vaccine in the Credit Union 1 Arena on Monday, Feb. 1, 2021, at the University of Illinois Chicago.
Abraham Thompson Jr. elbow bumps inoculator Timothy Hamer, a pharmacy student, after receiving his COVID-19 vaccine in the Credit Union 1 Arena on Feb. 1, 2021, at the University of Illinois Chicago. (Photo: Joshua Clark/University of Illinois Chicago)

On Feb. 1, the first day it opened a community COVID-19 vaccination site, UIC and UI Health administered more than 1,600 shots to phase 1A and phase 1B eligible people, representing nearly a quarter of all vaccine doses (23%) distributed in Chicago on that day.

The new vaccination site — located at UIC’s Credit Union 1 Arena at 525 S. Racine Ave. — already has booked around 10,000 appointments, filling about 1,000 appointment slots a day for its first 10 days.

Service to the community is at the core of our mission,” UIC Chancellor Michael Amiridis said. “I am incredibly proud of everyone across the university and health care enterprise who are working tirelessly to roll out mass vaccinations to our patients and all eligible Chicago residents, especially those from high-need communities.”

As of Feb. 9, UI Health has provided 17,156 first doses and 8,351 second doses of COVID-19 vaccines.

“I am immensely proud of UI Health’s successful launch of our community vaccination site and the quick rollout of vaccinations for health care providers, our health sciences community and patients. This effort is a testament to the strength of our university’s academic health enterprise and our steadfast commitment to serving our community,” said Dr. Robert Barish, vice chancellor for health affairs at UIC.

According to Kimberly Bertini, who is co-leading the hospital’s vaccination efforts, adding the Credit Union 1 Arena as a public vaccination site greatly enhances the health system’s ability to serve its patients and community.

“If more vaccines become available nationally, our community vaccination site at the UIC Credit Union 1 Arena has the capacity to administer up to 20,000 doses each week,” said Bertini, director of nursing excellence at the University of Illinois Hospital. “Currently, we’re only limited by vaccine availability.”

The new space, she says, has ample room for social distancing and is fully accessible — individuals of all abilities should be able to comfortably receive a vaccine.

Dentistry student Ellie Park signals she's available to administer another vaccine on Monday, Feb. 1, 2021, at the University of Illinois Chicago Credit Union 1 Arena. (Joshua Clark/University of Illinois Chicago)
Dentistry student Ellie Park signals she’s available to administer another vaccine on Monday, Feb. 1, 2021, at the University of Illinois Chicago Credit Union 1 Arena. (Photo: Joshua Clark/University of Illinois Chicago)

UI Health began its vaccine rollout on Dec. 18 by providing appointments for health care workers and staff — those who meet phase 1A criteria — and designating space for staff vaccinations at UIC’s College of Pharmacy.

“The goal of our vaccine program is to get the vaccine out quickly and safely,” said Dr. Susan Bleasdale, acting chief quality officer and medical director of infection prevention at the University of Illinois Hospital. “We worked very hard to prioritize staff for the vaccine based on risk and quickly rolled through sub-tiers within phase 1A. We focused on providing information to our staff and offering opportunities for them to ask questions about the vaccine and its safety and efficacy.”

Clinical evidence in support of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s decision to grant emergency use authorization for the Pfizer vaccine — so far, the only vaccine that UI Health has received for distribution — shows that it is 95% effective at preventing symptomatic COVID infections after two doses and that there are no known serious, long-term side effects associated with receipt of the vaccines.

“Now, our goal is to reach patients and the community in the same way. We want to make sure those in phase 1B who are at most risk from COVID have information about the vaccine, have the chance to ask questions and know that if they choose to get vaccinated, UI Health is here to help,” Bleasdale said. “Every vaccine delivered is an opportunity to help us fight the pandemic.”  

UI Health is emailing and calling patients who meet phase 1B criteria — those age 65 and older and essential frontline workers — and is using the Chicago Department of Public Health’s list of vulnerable ZIP codes to prioritize outreach.

Patients and Chicago residents in phase 1B can schedule an appointment as supply allows. Walk-ins are not accepted.

Dr. Christopher Colbert volunteered on Feb. 1, alongside a group of emergency medicine residents. 

“As a physician, it was so refreshing,” said Colbert, UIC assistant professor of clinical emergency medicine and director of the emergency medicine residency program. “For so long doctors have had mostly bad news to share with patients and families — ‘I’m sorry, you can’t see your dad,’ or ‘I’m sorry, we just don’t know enough about this treatment.’ Now we can say, ‘Yes! We can help you protect yourself and your family, and you don’t even have to go to the hospital.’ Now, not only do we have an answer, we have the resources. It was cool to see people cheering. You could just see it on their faces. It was awesome. This is a collective effort to effect positive change in the community and it’s powerful.”

In addition to faculty and staff volunteers, hundreds of UIC students have also volunteered.

Fourth-year UIC dental student Ellie Park volunteered Feb. 1. She said she was prepared for some patients to be nervous.

“I was worried about people being hesitant to get the shot, but everyone seemed hopeful. They were happy to finally be getting the vaccine,” Park said. 

“Our health sciences colleges have always been a strength of our institution and during the COVID-19 pandemic, their support has allowed us to be successful in responding to the needs of our community,” said Paul Gorski, senior director of clinical services and integration and operations officer at the University of Illinois Hospital, who is also co-leading the hospital’s vaccination efforts.

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Vaccine information for community members, UI Health patients and UIC staff and students, including Frequently Asked Questions, is available at Vaccine.UIHealth.Care.

Vaccine appointments and scheduling at Vaccine.UIHealth.Care.

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