A group of Democrat House legislators from Illinois has written a letter criticizing President Joe Biden’s administration for the restriction of vaccine appointments at a mass vaccination site due to equity rules.
The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) mass vaccination site, the United Center, is set to become the largest vaccination site in the state, but its grand opening on Tuesday has encountered controversy over news that appointments will be restricted to residents of Chicago and Cook County.
A group of 11 House Democrats from Illinois, out of the state’s 13 Democrat House members, signed a letter to Robert Fenton, acting administrator for FEMA, to voice their concerns with the restriction.
"Many of our constituents who fall in the vulnerable category, but who don’t live in Chicago, felt frustrated with the recent determination to limit eligibility at the United Center Federal Mass Vaccination Center for Illinois residents," the letter states. "Their confusion was exacerbated with the abruptness of the announcement, and the consequent uncertainty surrounding their future access to a vaccination appointment."
The legislators note that they share FEMA’s goal of equitable distribution, but said that "pockets of vulnerability exist all across our state. Restricting these populations from seeking appointments at the United Center Federal Mass Vaccination Center is a departure from the site’s initial message of ensuring all underserved Illinoisans have access to COVID-19 vaccines.
"Moving forward, we respectfully ask you to continue to ensure future decisions on eligibility be fully considered and communicated with all vulnerable Illinoisans — including those beyond Chicago," they write.
Kevin M. Sligh Sr., acting regional administrator of FEMA, wrote in a statement: "FEMA is committed to the equitable distribution of vaccines. The decision to change course on registrations had to be made quickly because delaying the decision would only have ensured that the most socially vulnerable Illinoisans would be excluded from this particular effort."
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker said last Thursday, after going on a tour of a vaccination site in Morris being supported by the National Guard, "All due respect to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, they came in with one set of rules that was all laid out for everybody. Then about on Friday, FEMA decided there wasn’t enough equity that was being achieved with the location at United Center. They had hoped to get more Black and brown people in to get shots."
Chicago Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said on Thursday that "When we made the decision for some of those doses at the United Center … we were able to have more of an equity focus. It is definitely a best public health practice to direct vaccine to the parts that are under-vaccinated."
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said in a press conference last Friday that he expects that the United Center will soon "open up to a wider array of people," and added, "It’s a desperate situation, but I think time is going to solve this problem as we have more vaccines, more distribution centers."
The legislators who signed the letter include Illinois Democrat Reps. Jan Schakowsky, Danny Davis, Sean Casten, Robin Kelly, Bill Foster, Jesús "Chuy" García, Raja Krishnamoorthi, Bobby Rush, Mike Quigley, and Marie Newman.
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