If you tried to make an appointment to get vaccinated on Tuesday, April 6, at the newly opened mass vaccination site at Chicago State University, most likely you failed.
One day after it opened to serve thousands of residents on the South Side, the mass vaccination site at the predominately Black university was closed for the entire day with no official explanation from City Hall.
While the facility was closed, Mayor Lori Lightfoot and top politicos from Illinois rubbed elbows with Vice President Kamala Harris during her visit to Chicago.
The visit from the nation’s first Black female vice president was a highly anticipated event, but City Hall gave no details of her itinerary to Chicago’s Black Press, including the Crusader and radio station WVON.
However, the Crusader has learned that days before Harris’ trip to the city, residents on the South Side were unable to schedule any vaccination appointments at Chicago State on April 6. The city had opened the site the day before, as zip codes on the South Side continue to remain behind the rest of the city in vaccination rates.
Residents and Chicago’s Black media organizations were not given any advance notice of the temporary closure on Tuesday, and there is no message on the city’s or Chicago State’s websites about the decision.
The Crusader made repeated attempts to obtain details from the mayor’s office on Harris’ visit to Chicago but was told that City Hall was not handling the vice president’s itinerary. The White House did not respond to an email that the Crusader sent on Monday, April 5.
The vaccinations at Chicago State are given six days a week at the campus’ Emil & Patricia A. Jones Convocation Center (JCC). At full capacity, it could serve 1,200 walk-up and 1,000 drive-thru appointments a day. It is the only city-sponsored mass vaccination site on the South Side.
But the facility was quiet Tuesday and callers to the phone hotline were told that there were no available appointments that day. They were not told the facility was closed all day.
The Crusader staff also called the city’s vaccination hotline and learned that in addition to closing the mass vaccination site at Chicago State, there were no appointments available at the United Center that day. A search on the app ZocDoc also said there were no available appointments.
Erin Steva, Chicago State’s vice president of external affairs, confirmed that the mass vaccination site was closed all day Tuesday. She said the site was closed to “ramp up vaccination operations,” but did not elaborate or give specifics.
When asked whether the closure had something to do with Harris’ visit, she encouraged the Crusader to contact the mayor’s office, which did not respond to an email by Crusader press time Wednesday, April 7, for its print edition.
The Crusader asked Steva for media access to the facility on Tuesday, but the request was declined. Steva later emailed the Crusader saying the publication could visit the site when it reopens on Wednesday, April 7.
The mass vaccination sites at Chicago State and Wrigley Field are the newest to open in response to a new surge in COVID-19 cases.
The site at Chicago State was heavily needed, as many neighborhoods on the South Side have vaccination rates hovering above 20 percent, while zip codes in the Loop and on the North Side have vaccination rates in the 30- and 40-percent range.
Two zip codes in the Loop, 60602 and 60604, have vaccination rates of 62 percent and 61 percent, respectively, according to the Chicago Department of Public Health.
Prior to opening the mass vaccination site at Chicago State, residents on the South Side had to travel twice to the United Center on the Near West Side to get two inoculations of the Pfizer vaccine. There were concerns that lack of transportation was keeping many South Side residents from making the trip west.
Harris’ visit to Chicago was in response to Lightfoot’s request as the mayor continues to promote racial and ethnic parity in vaccination appointments.
Harris also planned to promote President Joe Biden’s new push to have states open eligibility to all adults by April 19. Lightfoot on Tuesday pledged to meet Biden’s new deadline for Chicago residents.
With no information from the mayor’s office, it’s uncertain whether Harris was given a tour of mass vaccination sites at Chicago State, United Center and Wrigley Field on the North Side.
A photo in the Chicago Sun-Times shows Harris at an unidentified vaccination site with Lightfoot, Governor J.B. Pritzker, and Senators Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth.
Another photo shows Harris with other powerful Black women that included Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx and Lt. Governor Juliana Stratton, visiting Brown Sugar Bakery in Chatham.
It is uncertain whether Harris visited the national headquarters of her sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha at 56th and Stony Island.
Harris reportedly visited China Town and a mass vaccination site at the International Union of Operating Engineers Local 399 Hall at 2260 S. Grove St.
Lightfoot and Pritzker reportedly greeted Harris as she arrived at Midway Airport at the beginning of her visit.