Rush Oak Park HospitalPhoto courtesy

Rush University Medical Center, 1620 W. Harrison St., recently started giving COVID-19 vaccines to homebound seniors on the West Side and in the west suburbs. The hospital is also gearing up for a much bigger effort to vaccinate high-risk Austin residents this spring. 

Under the current phase of Chicago’s vaccination program, Phase 1B, vaccines are available to people age 65 and older, residents of group settings, caregivers, medical professionals and most essential workers. But Rush and other hospitals haven’t been getting enough supplies to keep up with the demand, forcing them to limit vaccination hours. 

The center is still trying to get the vaccines it does have to West Siders who need it most. Since Feb. 11, it has been vaccinating homebound seniors who are part of the Rush@Home program, which provides services to patients who have trouble getting to the doctor’s office due to their health conditions. 

Rush@Home is available to patients who have “two or more” chronic health conditions that make it hard for them to do household tasks on their own. Patients must live in either one of the West Side neighborhoods or in Oak Park, River Forest or Forest Park. 

Rush is also preparing to send teams into Austin to vaccinate residents most at risk of getting COVID-19, though as of Feb. 12, the details were still being worked out. 

When the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were first approved, they were only available to health-care workers, and residents and staff of long-term care facilities. The city moved to Phase 1B on Jan. 25. Although Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Feb. 10 expanded eligibility to all Illinois residents with underlying medical conditions, Chicago and suburban Cook County declined to follow suit, with government officials saying they didn’t have enough doses for it. 

Dr. David Ansell, Rush’s vice president for community health and equity, said that as of Feb. 9, the hospital gave around 39,000 vaccine doses to medical staff, patients and residents who signed up online. 

At that point, Rush vaccinated around 40 percent of its eligible West Side and South Side patients.

Ansell said their efforts have been hampered by the limited supply. While they have 80,000 patients eligible under Phase 1B, the hospital only gets 3,900 vaccines a week. Since each patient gets two doses spaced three to four weeks apart, the actual amount available varies. 

“Because we are not getting enough vaccine, we are only vaccinating four days a week,” Ansell said.

On Jan. 27, Rush teamed up with West Side and South Side faith leaders to hold an in-person vaccination awareness event, where the participants got to ask questions about the vaccines and, if they are eligible, get their first shot.  

Rev. Marshall Hatch, of West Garfield Park’s New Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church, said he hoped that getting vaccinated would not only encourage others to get it, but bring hope to the community. 

“Widespread vaccination represents faith and hope that we can turn the corner from this pandemic soon,” he said. “As clergy step forward to be vaccinated today, we demonstrate that faith leaders are hope leaders, as well.” 

Ansell said Rush has been holding virtual community town halls to spread awareness. 

Elisabeth Davis, Rush’s medical director of community health equity, said the hospital’s goal is to give the first dose to all existing patients in the program and any other eligible members of the patients’ households, by Feb. 15. 

The center is part of the Chicago Vaccine Corps partnership, in which health-care providers and community organizations team up with local residents to dispel the myths about the vaccines and, once the eligibility expands, vaccinate residents. Davis said that Rush will vaccinate “high-risk populations,” including residents of senior housing developments in the coming weeks.

To register for vaccinations at Rush, visit this link.

To find out more about Rush@Home program, visit this link.

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Igor Studenkov is a winner of multiple Illinois Press Association awards for local government and business reporting. He has been contributing to Growing Community Media newspapers in 2012, then from 2015...