“Our equity numbers are showing the fruits of those labors,” Robinson says.
Logistics expert Hani Mahmassani of Northwestern University says other big cities are starting to adopt Chicago’s approach. The thought process for many now is, “the more we could go into the neighborhoods, make it accessible to folks, the better,” says Mahmassani, who is studying vaccine distribution under a grant from the National Science Foundation.
The city distributed half of its doses to hospitals. Chicago’s four academic medical centers—Rush University Medical Center, Northwestern Memorial Hospital, University of Chicago Medical Center and the University of Illinois Hospital—got a quarter, safety nets just under 15 percent and other community hospitals about 10 percent.
About 30 percent of the city’s doses went to community and federally qualified health centers, as well as small doctors’ groups and primary care networks. Ten percent went to pharmacies, including chains like Jewel-Osco and Walgreens. CDPH kept about 10 percent, which has been doled out at City Colleges and other sites.
There is a downside to a diversified roster, Mahmassani points out. More providers might mean more mistakes. Chicago learned that lesson firsthand in recent weeks as it cut off two of its top vaccinators amid controversy.
Innovative Express Care, which received 32,300 doses from the city, was accused of misallocating shots meant for Chicago Public Schools staff. The clinic denies the charge. And Loretto Hospital, a West Side safety net chosen by the city to administer the first COVID-19 vaccines, has reportedly vaccinated people who are connected to hospital leaders, despite not being eligible for shots under the city’s protocols. Loretto received more than 25,000 doses from the city—more than any other safety-net hospital.
Asked whether the decentralized nature of the city’s campaign makes it harder to enforce guidelines, Robinson says the health department is constantly in contact with providers and that, for the most part, they’ve all followed the rules.
Chicago-based primary care network Oak Street Health has received 54,600 doses since December, about 6 percent of the city’s supply. Of all the places that Oak Street Health is vaccinating people across the country, Chicago has been the most successful at tapping into its vast network of medical providers, Executive Medical Director Dr. Ali Khan says, noting that the city rewarded speed and efficiency, giving extra doses to providers who were willing to extend their reach beyond their current roster of patients.
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