By Chris Tye

CHICAGO (CBS) — Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot made it clear Thursday that the city will not tolerate physicians not following the rules when it comes to distributing the COVID-19 vaccine. The message came after the city pulled back all of its vaccines from Innovative Express Care, accusing the vendor of giving doses that were set aside for Chicago Public Schools workers to non-CPS employees.

Innovative Express Care has a number of storefronts, but as part of a multimillion dollar deal, they set up inside four CPS schools to vaccinate district staff. The issue in all this is what they did with leftover vaccines. They say the city never spelled it out.

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CBS 2 found that may not be the case. Six weeks before helping administer the first shots to CPS staff, Dr. Rahul Khare’s Innovate Express Care entered into a $5 million contract with the city, a partnership shuttered Tuesday night night when the city’s department of public health claimed Innovative knowingly misallocated 6,000 doses to non-CPS staff, a move deemed “unacceptable.”

Dr. Khare defended himself on social media, saying “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. This makes no sense to us.”

CBS 2 obtained the contract, which reads, in part: “Vendor shall only use COVID-19 vaccines provided by CDPH at the COVID-19 Vaccination Centers for individuals identified by CPS as eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccines.” The contract also states, “Excess vaccines will be offered to CPS employees in accordance with the order of subgroups.” There is no mention of non-CPS workers getting vaccines.

Neither Khare nor the city responded to CBS 2’s requests for an interview Wednesday.

Union leaders say there were warning signs.

“There’s a Crane’s article from February 12 titled ‘How one doctor fights the pandemic –profitably,’ which should have been a warning sign,” said Chicago Teachers Union President Jesse Sharkey. 

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Innovative is “for-profit”. And it is defending itself saying no CPS staff were ever denied.

“We always insured that there were enough allocations for additional doses for all of CPS employees,” said Khare.

It is not clear what vendor the city has chosen instead. Jackson said every employee who wants access to a vaccine still has it.

It’s also not clear why Innovative decided it had the power to choose who else could get the vaccine. Those non-CPS people are not provided for at all in the contract.

The vaccine belonged to the city. It was only to be given to those spelled out by the city — CPS employees. The city also wanted metrics from the vendor on how much vaccine was going out and a limit on how much vaccine would be thawed every day to control potential waste.

It is unclear how often the city got updates and whether that thawing component of the contract was met.

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Dr. Allison Arwady, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health also said Wednesday that the city noticed ongoing irregularities from Innovative. It is not clear how long they knew, especially since Innovative gave more than 6,000 doses to non-city employees.