CHICAGO (CBS) — A new program kicked off Saturday to make sure in the future, those minority communities who need the vaccine most have a fair shot.

As CBS 2’s Marissa Parra reported, the race is on as Illinois await their shot of the COVID-19 vaccine – and the first steps to making that race a fair one in Chicago were taken with the official kickoff of the Protect Chicago Plus program.

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“If we are going to be able to distribute this vaccine equitably, we need to go into communities that have been most negatively impacted by COVID,” said Mary Kate Daly, vice president of the Patrick M. Magoon Institute for Healthy Communities at Lurie Children’s Hospital.

It’s no accident that the program’s first vaccination event was held in Belmont Cragin – the neighborhood with city’s largest Latino population and also among those hardest hit by the virus. Thousands of residents there have already been exposed.

“I did have COVID recently. It was a little scary,” said Melissa Mendez of Onward House in Belmont Cragin, a not-for-profit daycare. “Luckily, I was OK, but after that kind of scare, I was like, OK there is a vaccine, so I would love the opportunity to get one.”

Mendez got that chance on Saturday, along with over 200 others. Like everyone else who was out for their vaccines with her, Mendez works in childcare…

“I would go into homes,” she said. “We would do education with the children once a week.”

She said getting children to wear a mask has proven impossible. But doing her work remotely has, in some ways, been worse.

“It’s so hard to do it with the screen, but the little ones are telling me, ‘Come over, and I’m like, ‘I can’t, I’m so sorry,’” Mendez said. “It’s hard watching them suffer through this pandemic too.”

She wears her love for the kids she cares for on her sleeve.

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Thus, rolling up her literal sleeve to get the vaccine was an emotional moment — one step closer to the way things were, and one step closer to safety from the virus for those she loves
“I feel really good,” Mendez said. “I’m the first in my family. They were excited for me to get vaccinated. They wanted to know how I felt. They were nervous as well. It’s a really nice feeling to know your community is getting better.”

In addition to focusing on a primarily Latino community, the initiative Saturday with Protect Chicago Plus focused on child care providers in particular – with the hope that while parents are working, providers can safely watch after their children in person.

In total, the city will hone in on 15 of Chicago’s hardest-hit minority neighborhoods, such as Englewood and Humboldt Park.

The Protect Chicago Plus plan involves three main strategies:

• Targeting those 15 high-need communities based on their COVID-19 vulnerability index;

• Pushing vaccine and city resources directly to those communities, and partnering with community organizations, vaccine clinics, and strike teams;

• Working with community leaders and organizations to identify settings and groups where vaccine access will most quickly cut COVID-19 transmission.

The Belmont Cragin event on Saturday was held at the Northwest Community Church, 5318 W. Diversey Ave. Lurie’s clinicians worked in partnership with the Chicago Department of Public Health, the Northwest Side Housing Center, and volunteers organized by the office of Ald. Gilbert Villegas (36th).

To learn more on how to sign up or how to volunteer, click here.

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