The Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH), in partnership with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois’ Care Van Program®, is launching a mobile response team to immunize front-line essential workers against COVID-19.
The response team recently launched by vaccinating workers with Community Organized Relief Effort, better known as CORE, a nonprofit disaster relief organization founded in 2010 by actor Sean Penn. Since spring last year, CORE, working with city officials and other community organizations, has provided COVID-19 testing in Chicago and across the country.
Maribel Chavez-Torres, deputy commissioner of CDPH’s immunization program, says it’s important to protect workers who are serving Chicago residents by vaccinating them.
“We consider them critical health care workers,” says Chavez-Torres of the CORE team. “The Care Van Program allows us to be able to provide immunization services to several locations.”
As of Jan. 28, more than 171,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses had been administered in Chicago, mostly limited to health care providers and support staff and nursing home residents. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently advised states to begin expanding eligibility to people age 65 and older. CDPH expects to include BCBSIL’s Care Van in a larger vaccination fleet to reach as many people as they can.
For decades, BCBSIL’s Care Van Program has supported communities by helping provide thousands of school immunizations, flu shots and health education and testing services by going to schools, day care centers and churches, statewide. Offering COVID-19 vaccinations is becoming an extension of that outreach.
“Having this resource is critical,” Chavez-Torres says. “In 2021, it will be even more critical as we begin to vaccinate the general population.”
The van allows the health department to reach people throughout Chicago and provide services to which they may not otherwise have access. During the summer, the health department and Care Van program provided about 2,500 immunizations to more than 1,250 children at 15 Chicago schools to boost the rate of childhood immunizations during the pandemic.
"We have a 30-year relationship with Chicago’s health department,” says BCBSIL community relations manager Stephanie Peden-Fox, “so we were able to mobilize quickly to help pilot their strike team approach to fighting COVID-19.”