February 26, 2021

New federal COVID-19 vaccination site opens March 10 at United Center



CHICAGO (WBBM NEWSRADIO) – A new, federal COVID-19 mass vaccination site is coming to Chicago.

The Biden Administration, Governor Pritzker, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Senators Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth announced Friday that the United Center will be home to the state's latest mass vaccination site.

Beginning March 10, all eligible Illinoisans will be able to be vaccinated at the new site that prioritizes access for seniors and equity for the hardest hit populations.

"We will be launching a new mass vaccination site at the United Center that will begin operating on March 10 and will be open to appointments by anyone in our state. This makes Illinois the fifth state to benefit from this high-volume federal investment," Governor Pritzker said.

The Biden Administration is opening pilot Community Vaccination Centers across the country. The United Center site will open on March 10 with the capacity to administer 6,000 doses per day, all of which will be provided directly by the federal government and not taken out of the state or city’s allotment.

"That's something that every Illinoisan should applaud," Pritzker said.

Officials said the site will be by appointment only. In the coming days, Governor Pritzker said the state will announce an advanced signup period for seniors 65 and older to have exclusive early access to the first batch of vaccination appointments, before the site opens.

If appointments remain available after seniors have had their exclusive registration period, any remaining available slots will be open to any Illinoisans eligible under the state’s guidelines. After the launch on March 10, registration will continue to be open for all Illinoisans eligible in the state’s Phase 1B+, including those 16 and older with underlying medical conditions.

Preparations and buildout of the United Center Community Vaccination Center are now underway. Information about where and how to make appointments will be available in coming days. Demand is anticipated to be high.

Based on commitments, "Illinois expects to receive an average shipment of at least 100,000 doses per day by mid-March," Pritzker said.

The Governor said the state has administered more than 100,000 shots each day for past two days.

"We're ready," he said.

"I hope you're feeling what I'm feeling, and it's hope. Things are getting better. Some day not too far from now, we'll be at the United Center, not for a lifesaving shot but for a game-winning shot."

The United Center site will be managed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency with support from the Department of Defense, State of Illinois, Cook County, and the City of Chicago.

The United Center site builds on an expanding network of state-supported sites operating across southern, central and northern Illinois. Officials said the United Center location is one of the best places in the country to advance key equity priorities through its proximity to medically underserved communities and goals of reaching those most vulnerable to the COVID-19 virus.

“The United Center is one of the best locations for vaccinating large numbers of people in America: it’s easy to get to, is in the midst of a medically underserved community, can handle large crowds and is well known to everyone in Illinois,” said Governor JB Pritzker, in a statement. “Thanks to FEMA, the United Center is just our most recent among a growing number of state-supported mass vaccination location for residents. To date, the Illinois National Guard has launched 15 state-supported sites, including locations in Springfield, Rockford, Carbondale and Metro East – and that’s on top of mass vax sites operated by our 97 local health departments. I am deeply grateful to the Biden-Harris administration for working closely with us to bring on this high-capacity site, and I’m particularly proud that we’ve worked together to prioritize seniors in this process, moving us that much closer to putting this pandemic to an end.”

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said the opening of the federal mass vaccination site at the United Center brings us another step forward in our equity-centered COVID-19 vaccination plan.

“From our seniors to the communities hardest hit by the pandemic, we will not stop until we get shots into the arms of our residents who patiently wait to see the light at the end of this pandemic," she said.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle: "I'm a grandparent, and too many grandparents haven't seen their grandchildren or their children in almost a year now. Friends haven't hugged their loved ones. The stories are endless, and the isolation has taken a terrible toll on all of us. And while there's much left to do, this site helps all of us get one step closer to a sense of normalcy."

Chicago Mayor Lightfoot said not only is Chicago getting over 90 percent of its vaccine into the arms of residents within one week of seeing them, but thanks to the city's equitable vaccine strategy, half of the vaccines administered are now being given to Chicagoans of color, a huge improvement over the city's early days.

“The new United Center mass vaccination site is a game changer for Chicago and the entire region,” said Mayor Lightfoot, in a statement. “This is what Presidential leadership looks like—bold, collaborative, and science-based. With this new site, we’ll now be able to take our vaccination success to a whole new level and bring to bear the historic and inclusive recovery that is soon to come.”

Mayor Lightfoot said the city has about 250,000 seniors who have yet to get their first dose; and that number jumps to nearly half a million if you look at all of Cook County.

She said Chicago is building a transportation plan to get seniors to the center — including having Uber give them rides. The Mayor added that the city is calling on "everyone" to get seniors signed up and help them get to the United Center.

"Anybody who can lend a hand to our seniors...We need to get them there, and we need to get them vaccinated," Lightfoot said. "We need to prevent COVID deaths by vaccinating seniors, pure and simple."

According to local and state officials, this federal pilot site will not divert allocations from other jurisdictions, as vaccine will be provided direct by the federal government to the site. The site will operate seven days a week for eight weeks under the federal government’s vaccination pilot program.

The United Center was selected by the Biden administration in coordination with state, county, and city partners to fulfill the administration’s commitment to expanding the rate of vaccinations across the country in an efficient, effective, and equitable manner, with a keen focus on making sure that communities with a high risk of COVID-19 exposure and infection are not left behind.

A statement was released on behalf of Jerry Reinsdorf and Rocky Wirtz, Co-Chairs of the United Center Joint Venture:

“We are proud to partner with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the City of Chicago, Cook County, and State of Illinois leadership, to transform the United Center campus to help expedite vaccine distribution. From the onset of this pandemic, the United Center’s team of dedicated professionals have worked tirelessly with relief agencies, first responders, City, County and Federal agencies and the public on a wide array of initiatives to support the region’s Covid-19 relief efforts. It is our hope that by partnering with FEMA to create a mass vaccination center, we are one step closer to putting this pandemic behind us. We are grateful for the dedication of our United Center professionals, and our incredibly supportive vendors and partners, to help turn these plans into a reality. Without their support this effort would not be possible.”

In addition to the United Center, Illinois has 15 state-supported mass vaccination sites already open across the state. These sites are currently open to any eligible resident via appointment.

For more information on how to make an appointment to receive the vaccine, updates on the state’s plan and eligibility, and answers to frequently asked questions about the COVID-19 vaccine, go to coronavirus.illinois.gov.

By:  WBBM Newsradio Staff Report