by Todd Feurer and Mugo Odigwe

CHICAGO (CBS)– “Take the shot” will soon have a new meaning at the United Center. The parking lot at the Madhouse on Madison is about to become a mass vaccination site.

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Gov. JB Pritzker announced the site Friday morning alongside Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, and Federal Emergency Management Agency regional director Kevin Sligh.

Officials said a new federal Community Vaccination Center will open in the United Center parking lot on March 10, with the capacity to administer 6,000 vaccine doses per day.

Pritzker said it’s the fifth high-volume federal vaccination site to open in the nation.

The site will operate seven days a week for eight weeks under the federal government’s vaccination pilot program.

All of those doses will come directly from the federal government, and will not be taken out of the state’s or city’s regular allotment of vaccines.

Pritzker said the site was chosen because it not only is centrally located and easily accessible, but is in an underserved area of Chicago.

“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, it can handle large crowds and is well known to everyone in Illinois,” he said.

 

Officials said vaccinations at the United Center site will be available by appointment only, with seniors given first priority to sign up before the site opens.

“We want to get those seniors vaccinated as fast as humanely possible,” she said. “That’s why we’re calling on everyone to get our seniors signed up when this registration opens … and then help them get to the United Center when it’s time for their appointment.”

“We need moms, dads, grandmas, grandpas, your neighbor, your auntie, your mother’s cousin, anybody who can lend a hand to our seniors; we need to get them there, and we need to get them vaccinated. Let’s call this our SOS moment: support our seniors,” she added.

After the site opens on March 10, registration will open for anyone in Illinois eligible for the vaccine in the state’s Phase 1B+, which includes essential workers, people age 65 or older, and anyone age 16 and up with an underlying health condition such as cancer, chronic kidney disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes, a heart condition, an immunocompromised state from an organ transplant, obesity, pregnancy, pulmonary disease, or sickle cell disease.

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Officials said details on how to register for a vaccine at the United Center will be announced next week.

The governor said the new mass vaccination site comes as the Biden administration already has nearly doubled the weekly supply of doses being distributed to states. Pritzker said Illinois is expecting its vaccine supply to be increased to approximately 100,000 doses per day by mid-March.

“I hope you’re feeling what I’m feeling, and it’s hope. Things are getting better. Someday not too far from now, we’ll be at the United Center, not for a life-saving shot, but for a game-winning shot. In the meantime, mask up, keep helping each other out, and we will get through this together,” Pritzker said.

Illinois has administered more than 100,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines each of the past two days, including a record 130,021 doses on Wednesday.

So far, Illinois has received a total of 3,171,245 doses of vaccines, and has administered 2,543,620 doses statewide. A total of 725,464 people in Illinois have been fully vaccinated as of Thursday night, accounting for 5.69% of the state’s population.

Meantime, preparations for the United Center vaccination site already were underway Friday morning, as trucks carrying some of the equipment needed to launch the vaccination site had arrived at the stadium.

FEMA coordinating officer Brian Schiller said crews will be setting up a tent city in the United Center parking lot to make sure vaccines can be administered regardless of the weather. All shots will be given out in United Center Lot E, north of the stadium.

Officials said the mass vaccination site is tentatively scheduled to be open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. seven days a week.

Illinois State Rep. La Shawn Ford (D-Chicago) said the United Center was chosen as a mass vaccination site was chosen because it’s in a community that’s been hit hard by COVID-19, and is still fighting to recover. So this move will help raise the number of people on the West Side who get the vaccine.

“It sends a message that it’s important that Black people receive the vaccine,” Ford said.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin noted a recent study found vaccination rates in majority Black and Latinx zip codes averaged about 5%, while rates in majority White zip codes averaged 13%.

“We’ve got to do better. This community vaccination center and its location, which will open on March 10, will help us get there,” he said.

Durbin also said the opening of the United Center vaccination site comes at an important time, as new variants of the COVID-19 virus are starting to spread across the country.

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“We are truly in a race against time to get people vaccinated before this virus mutates even further,” he said.

CBS 2 Chicago Staff