No, COVID-19 vaccines aren't going to waste in Chicago, says city's top physician

Some Chicagoans who aren't yet eligible for COVID-19 vaccines position their jumping the line as a public service, noting that doses would otherwise go in the trash. The city's top physician says this is a fallacy. 

"We have continued to use every dose of vaccine we have received with no vaccine going to waste," Allison Arwady, MD, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, said during a March 17 news conference.

After Loretto Hospital in Chicago offered vaccine doses to ineligible judges and their spouses — first reported by WBEZ — a spokesperson for the county court system defended the lapse in protocol by saying the shots would have otherwise gone to waste. 

Dr. Arwady hit back. 

"That is a rumor of all rumors that I am most interested in not perpetuating — this idea that somehow there is all of this vaccine that is being thrown out and that, if I don't take this vaccine, it won't be used for others," Dr. Arwady told Block Club Chicago. "[I] cannot reiterate strongly enough that there is not vaccine that is being thrown out."

Loretto Hospital's vaccine supply has since been cut off by the city while officials investigate its vaccination practices. 

The court is not the only body to justify lapse in protocol by using the reasoning that shots would be discarded if they didn't go in ineligible people's arms. Social media users have circulated false information that appointments at the United Center's mass vaccination site are vacant or officials are throwing vaccine doses in the trash because of no-show appointments. 

"No vaccine is going to waste at the United Center or anywhere in Chicago. And, yes, we are at capacity at the United Center," Dr. Arwady said at the March 17 news conference. "We are booking up to 5,700 appointments per day right now, and we are doing more than 5,600 appointments of those — yesterday, for example." 

The city aims to administer 360,000 vaccine doses by the end of the United Center's eight-week program.

Chicago is set to move to phase 1c March 29, which opens eligibility for more essential workers, including those in legal fields, government, media, finance, and food and beverage. Cook County Department of Public Health only administers vaccines by appointment, and any no-show or canceled appointments are reopened to others in the current or previous vaccination phase.

Illinois public health officials said the number of vaccines that had gone to waste statewide as of Feb. 10 totaled less than 1 percent of all vaccines administered in the state. As of March 22, Illinois had administered 84 percent of the vaccine doses distributed to the state. The CDC does not specify what portion, if any, of unadministered vaccine supply was discarded. 

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