Rush University Medical Center, 1620 W. Harrison St., recently started giving COVID-19 vaccines to homebound seniors on the West Side and in the west suburbs. The hospital is also gearing up for a much bigger effort to vaccinate high-risk Austin residents this spring.

Under the current phase of Chicago’s vaccination program, Phase 1B, vaccines are available to people age 65 and older, residents of group settings, caregivers, medical professionals and most essential workers. But Rush and other hospitals haven’t been getting enough supplies to keep up with the demand, forcing them to limit vaccination hours.

The center is still trying to get the vaccines it does have to West Siders who need it most. Since Feb. 11, it has been vaccinating homebound seniors who are part of the Rush@Home program, which provides services to patients who have trouble getting to the doctor’s office due to their health conditions. Rush is also preparing to send teams into Austin to vaccinate residents most at risk of getting COVID-19, though, as of Feb. 12, the details were still being worked out.

When the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines were first approved, they were only available to healthcare workers, and residents and staff of long-term care facilities. The city moved to Phase 1B on Jan. 25. Although Gov. JB Pritzker on Feb. 10 expanded eligibility to all Illinois residents with underlying medical conditions, Chicago and suburban Cook County declined to follow suit, with government officials saying they didn’t have enough doses for it.

Dr. David Ansell, Rush’s vice president for community health and equity, said that, as of Feb. 9, the hospital gave around 39,000 vaccine doses to medical staff, patients and residents who signed up online.

At that point, Rush vaccinated around 40 percent of its eligible West Side and South Side patients.

Ansell said that their efforts have been hampered by the limited supply. While they have 80,000 patients eligible under Phase 1B, the hospital only gets 3,900 vaccines a week. Since each patient gets two doses spaced three to four weeks apart, the actual amount available varies.

“Because we are not getting enough vaccine, we are only vaccinating four days a week,” Ansell said.

On March 29, the city is scheduled to start Phase 1C, which will cover all residents ages 16 and older with underlying medical conditions, and essential workers that didn’t fall under Phase 1B. Ansell said that Rush has “over 100,000” patients eligible for Phase 1C.

But even with the limited supplies, Rush is working to encourage eligible West Siders to get vaccinated.

“While the concerns about the vaccine are not surprising given the history of Black and Brown mistreatment, including by some in health care, in the name of medical science, it’s essential that we reach all communities in the effort to achieve herd immunity,” Ansell said in an earlier statement.

On Jan. 27, Rush teamed up with West Side and South Side faith leaders to hold an in-person vaccination awareness event, where the participants got to ask questions about the vaccines and, if they are eligible, get their first shot. 

Rev. Marshall Hatch, of West Garfield Park’s New Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church, 4301 W. Washington Blvd., said that he hoped that getting vaccinated would not only encourage others to get it, but bring hope to the community.

“Widespread vaccination represents faith and hope that we can turn the corner from this pandemic soon,” he said. “As clergy step forward to be vaccinated today, we demonstrate that faith leaders are hope leaders, as well.”

Ansell said that Rush has been holding virtual community town halls to spread awareness.

The center has also been going into the community more directly. Rush@Home is available to patients who have “two or more” chronic health conditions that make it hard for them to do household tasks on their own. Patients must live in either one of the West Side neighborhoods or in Oak Park, River Forest or Forest Park.

Elisabeth Davis, Rush’s medical director of community health equity, said that the hospital’s goal is to give the first dose to all existing patients in the program and any other eligible members of the patients’ households, by Feb. 15.

The center is part of the Chicago Vaccine Corps partnership, in which healthcare providers and community organizations team up with local residents to dispel the myths about the vaccines and, once the eligibility expands, vaccinate residents. Davis said that Rush will vaccinate “high-risk populations,” including residents of senior housing developments.

“Rush has been asked by the city of Chicago to vaccinate in Austin in March and April, and we have begun to plan,” Ansell said.

Rush spokesperson Charlie Jolie said that they don’t have a firm timetable for when the plan might be finalized, saying only that it would be “in the near future” and contingent on how many vaccine doses will be available.

To register for vaccinations at Rush, visit https://www.rush.edu/patients-visitors/covid-19-resources/covid-19-vaccines

To find out more about Rush@Home program, visit https://www.rush.edu/patients-visitors/rush-home-visits