By Marie Saavedra

CHICAGO (CBS) — There was a line outside of the University of Illinois Health’s Mile Square Center Monday, each person with an appointment and gratitude for the Protect Chicago Plus Program.

“We heard it was in Joliet or in Elgin, and we don’t want to take a ride all the way over there. So we just waited for it to come here,” said Marisol Arreaga, as she was minutes away from getting her first COVID-19 vaccination shot with her father Jose.

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“This is very convenient because we don’t waste the time going some other place,” Jose said.

The community health center is in Back of the Yards, which is identified in the Protect Chicago Plus program. It’s a neighborhood hit hard by COVID-19 and now in great need of vaccine.

A map of Cook County, compiled by CBS 2’s data team shows lighter communities with the fewest  people fully vaccinated. Back of the Yards is 60609, which has just nearly 8% of the population protected.

(CBS)

The clinic, which is inoculating up to 500 people three days a week, aims to raise that number.

“It’s this kind of focused work that is the heart of our Protect Chicago Plus initiative, and it’s what we want to build, not just for vaccine, but for creating a healthier Chicago even after COVID,” said Dr. Allison Arwady, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health.

Arwady and Mayor Lori Lightfoot believe that only happens on the ground, so they walked a few blocks to try to encourage Back of the Yards neighbors to register for a shot. The mayor said equity remains a top goal.

“Over 50% of the vaccine that’s going into arms are among Black and Latinx Chicagoans,” she said. “That is a significant, significant accomplishment.”

And with the opportunity to get the shot in their Back of the Yards backyard, the Arreagas are now part of that percentage.

“It’s better, like, we don’t have to worry about it anymore,” Marisol said.

There was hope and encouragement coming from those lined up for their shots but also a warning from the mayor. She said the city is seeing a slight rise in cases in 18- to 40-year-olds. She asked people to remember that the city is not out of the woods yet, and said she would hate to have to roll back any reopening.

  Week ending 2/6/21 Week ending 3/6/21 Increase (percentage point)
Chicago 7.9% 15.3% 7.4
Belmont Cragin 4.7% 15.3% 10.6
Montclare 5.7% 13.0% 7.3
Gage Park 4.2% 16.1% 11.9
Archer Heights 4.6% 15.0% 10.4
South Lawndale 4.8% 16.0% 11.2
Chicago Lawn 3.6% 11.3% 7.7

Data from the City of Chicago shows the Protect Chicago Plus Program is working. Belmont Cragin showed almost an 11% increase in the number of people in the community who had at least the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine from the beginning of February to the beginning of March. Gage Park has seen nearly a 12% increase.

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Now the city is hoping to see similar growth in Back of the Yards.

Marie Saavedra