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After United Center vaxx site becomes drive-through only, can you still walk to it?

A drive-in testing site for COVID-19. Image: ABC Chicago

In May 2020 when "drive-through" COVID-19 testing was widespread, Streetsblog Chicago looked at the options for people who don't have cars. We found a few testing providers whose drive-through facilities also allowed people to show up on foot or bike, but it wasn't easy for the general public to figure that out.

A year later, Chicago's pandemic outlook appear much brighter – more than half of all adult residents have received at least one shot. But there's a similarly confusing situation today, since the city's health department chief Dr. Allison Arwady announced that the mass vaccination site at the United Center will soon become "drive-through-only."

Thanks to an increase in vaccine supply, last Friday all of Chicago's mass vaccination sites opened for walk-in service, meaning that you can show up without an appointment.

The United Center has been accommodating both people arriving in cars or on foot (or by bike or transit), and it recently began taking walk-ins. But Arwady said at a press conference today that's going to change, because the the vaccination facility is run by the feds, and their participation is ending soon, according to a report from Block Club's Kelly Bauer.

As a result, in addition to changing what type of shots will be available (after this week, no more walk-in appointments for first doses of of the two-shot Pfizer vaccine, only second doses and one-and-done Johnson & Johnson shots), it appears that there will be a change in how you can access the site. Arwady said the facility is switching back to drive-through-only on May 8, Block Club reported. "If we see good uptake, we are planning to continue the United Center only as a drive-in site [emphasis added],” probably through June, Arwady said.

But will Chicagoans who don't have cars be accommodated under this new format? The health department hasn't yet responded to emailed and tweeted requests for clarification, but I'll update this post if they get in touch.

One thing's for sure: If drive-through-only becomes the norm at Chicago's mass vaccination sites, and only drivers are allowed to use them, that will greatly reduce access for lower-income residents, the demographic hit hardest by COVID.

Speaking of access to vaccination sites, Streetsblog Chicago cofounder Steven Vance, who did some mapping work last month that found most people in Chicagoland could access COVID vaccination sites via transit, argues that it's important for the city to make it easier for people to get vaccinated in their own neighborhoods. That might spur people to action who've been waiting for vaccination to become more convenient. "Pharmacies should have enough vaccine in stock so that they can accommodate walk-ins with no appointments, just like flu shots," Steven said.

Sounds like a great idea. Chicago Department of Health, can you help make this happen?

Read the Block Club article here. 

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