CHICAGO (CBS) — The Chicago Department of Public Health announced Tuesday that it is cutting off a vaccine provider that was under contract with the Chicago Public Schools and then gave vaccine to non-CPS employees without authorization.
The provider, Innovative Express Care, or IEC, knowingly misallocated 6,000 doses of vaccine, the department said.READ MORE: MISSING: Matthew La Luz, 32, Last Seen In Rogers Park, May Need Serious Medical Attention
This included vaccine that was supposed to be used for people’s second doses, but was used for first doses instead, the department said.
“This is completely unacceptable behavior,” the department said in the release.
As CBS 2’s Jermont Terry reported, the signs outside Innovative Express Care facilities at Ashland and Fullerton avenues, and at 1111 W. Diversey Pkwy., clearly show people can get vaccinated there. But that is not the case anymore.
The health care center cannot give shots to anyone.
CDPH said it will reclaim all the vaccine distributed and stored by IEC. New providers will be taking over to administer vaccine for people who were scheduled to receive it through IEC, the department said.
CPS personnel with appointments on Wednesday will be rescheduled for the near future, and notifications are already in progress, the department said. CPS staffers with appointments on Thursday and after will be vaccinated at the same CPS high school sites where they were originally scheduled, the department said.
The department said IEC will not be conducting any more first-dose vaccinations, and people should visit Zocdoc to find available appointments. Those who scheduled a second-dose appointment through IEC will be vaccinated at a clinic set up specially for them at Truman College, and will be contacted.
But some patients who got their first shot through Innovative, but are not part of that rescheduling geared toward CPS, said they have been left high and dry for their second shot. People who talked with CBS 2’s Terry on and off camera are furious to know they may be back at square one because their second shot is in limbo now.
“Having no idea what to do or what will happen is a big worry,” said Billie Risley.
Risley’s worries came after the CDPH ceased every dose left in IEC’s possession.
“I can understand someone not playing by the rules or not following directions, but to leave everybody out without getting their second vaccine and shutting people down – it’s like an open commitment that we just shut the door on,” Risley said.
Risley received a text message letting him know he must reschedule his second dose. He doesn’t even work for CPS.
Innovative Express came to his manufacturing company to give the shot, and how he can’t get the peace of mind he expected with the second dose.READ MORE: Chicago Weather: Spotty Showers Sunday Night, Monday
“And now I feel like I’m out stranded and I have to go on search, and Monday will be my fourth week,” Risley said, “So what am I going to do now? I’m at a deadline.”
Innovative Express Care issued a statement protesting the city’s allegations late Tuesday – saying all it did was give excess doses of the vaccine to other eligible people.
IEC said it “proudly opened four CPS vaccination sites,” and as of last week, every CPS staff member had been given the opportunity to be vaccinated.
IEC said it vaccinated thousands of CPS employees at its own clinic and the four CPS sites, and noted that CPS had said a significant number of its employees had been vaccinated by Wednesday, March 17. All vaccine doses that were not used by CPS at the end of each week were used as a first dose for another eligible patient, IEC said.
“We always ensured that there were enough allocations for additional doses for all CPS employees. We received vaccine allocations each week, and our intention has always been to have a 100 percent utilization rate in order that every single dose we received was put into the arm of a qualified patient that week,” IEC wrote. “Clearly, we took this idealistic vision very seriously, which meant that doses intended for CPS employees actually went to seniors, frontline essential workers, and other qualified patients. We never departed from the commitment to CPS employees, nor other qualified individuals.”
“However, we understand now that CDPH officials expected us to store the vaccines they allocated in order to provide second doses to CPS employees. This is where the communication breakdown occurred. CDPH officials never made it clear to us that we should be storing more than half of our weekly allotment of vaccines in a freezer for people awaiting second doses. Rather, we aimed to get as many vaccines in eligible patients’ arms, as quickly as possible,” IEC added.
IEC said it had followed the city and state’s rules as to who was eligible from the vaccine from the beginning, and had always adhered to medical ethics. IEC also said it had proactively scheduled eligible people who live in medically underserved Black and Brown communities.
“Effective vaccine distribution should be modeled, not penalized,” IEC wrote.
IEC lambasted city government for the accusations against the clinic.
“The decision by CDPH officials today leaves us bewildered, saddened, and frankly disappointed in our local government,” IEC wrote. “CDPH officials never made it clear to us as a provider that we should be storing vaccines in a refrigerator for people awaiting second doses. Rather, we have been following the nation’s commitment to get as many vaccines in eligible patients’ arms, as quickly as possible. Our mission involved vaccinating as many eligible patients as quickly as possible, and not at the whims of the city official’s latest political crisis.”
Meanwhile, Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey took Mayor Lori Lightfoot and CPS leadership to task in a statement about the matter – accusing them of failing to prevent vaccine doses meant for teachers and CPS staff from going to others.
“After listening to the mayor and CPS leadership tell us that vaccinating teachers prior to returning to in-person instruction was impossible, then about how ‘robust’ their plan was, we now find out that 6,000 doses of the vaccine have been taken and given to others instead of educators and CPS workers — many of whom are some of the most medically vulnerable people working in our schools,” Sharkey said in the statement. “A number of teachers and staff have had appointments scheduled for less than 24 hours from now cancelled. It’s a failure, on multiple levels, from the people who run our school district.”
Sharkey said CPS and the mayor of canceling teachers’ leaves of absence because they believed vaccines had been offered to all CTU members. He noted that the claims against IEC come just after a scandal involving Loretto Hospital on the city’s West Side, in which top executives were reprimanded for arranging vaccinations for ineligible but well-connected people.
“Before CPS cancels anyone’s leave, they may want to run an audit on who is doing what with vaccine doses meant for the workers in our schools,” Sharkey wrote. “And the Chicago City Council should be calling for hearings into how the city is partnering with organizations to administer this potentially life-saving medication.”MORE NEWS: At Least 22 People Shot, 3 Killed In Gun Violence In Chicago This Weekend
As to what will happen next for people in Risley’s position, they will likely have to go online and pick up the phone in the morning to try to get an appointment. But it is even harder, as they must find an appointment with someone offering the specific dose they received originally – which one person said is like looking for a needle in a haystack.