Education Improvement

Chicago Says Clinic Hired To Vaccinate Chicago Public Schools Staff Gave Thousands To Others By Mariah Woelfel, Sarah Karp-WBEZ March 23, 2021.

The city of Chicago is cutting off vaccine supply indefinitely to Innovative Express Care in Chicago after saying the urgent clinic ‘misallocated’ thousands of vaccines.

Innovative Express Care was previously granted an at least $5 million contract with Chicago Public Schools to vaccinate school employees, but instead knowingly gave vaccines to non-CPS employees. The clinic also vaccinates other eligible residents.

The city said the clinic also “misrepresented” how many second doses they needed, and then used those second doses for first doses for others instead. That’s a problem, officials said, because the city prioritizes getting second doses rather than first doses to providers.

In total, the clinic misallocated 6,000 vaccines, the city said.

“This is completely unacceptable behavior,” the Chicago Department of Public Health wrote in a statement.

Innovative Express Care denied the allegations in a statement posted to their website and blamed the city for a lack of clarity on what to do with extra doses, as well as slow demand from CPS employees.

“Despite our best efforts, each week we had extra vaccines due to the slow uptake in CPS employee demand,” IEC said in the statement. “All vaccine doses that were not used by CPS at the end of each week went to another eligible patient for their first dose. We always ensured that there were enough vaccines for all CPS employees who sought one.”

The clinic adds it did not understand that the city expected it to store doses and save them for second shots for CPS employees, rather than giving them out as first doses to others.

“CDPH officials never made it clear to us that we should be storing more than half of our weekly allotment of vaccines in a freezer for people awaiting second doses,” the clinic wrote in the statement. “Rather, we aimed to get as many vaccines in eligible patients’ arms, as quickly as possible.”

On Wednesday, city officials fired back, saying IEC repeatedly misrepresented how many second doses they needed, so that they could dole out more first doses.

“It’s clear from their own admissions that they were not following the rules,” Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said. “We gave them every opportunity to get right … and they repeatedly failed to hold up their end of the bargain, so now they’re dealing with the consequences.”

The contract between CPS and Innovative Express Care states the clinic “may” use extra doses for any CPS employee, even if they do not have an appointment. But, there’s no mention in the contract of using the vaccine for non-CPS employees. The contract also states that the clinic should not thaw more doses than needed for each day of CPS appointments.

CPS issued a statement saying it was disheartened by the misallocation of doses.

“We are deeply concerned by the allegations involving Innovative Express, and are committed to a smooth transition that ensures minimal disruption for staff,” the statement read in part. “… Innovative Express’s actions have not impacted our ability to offer appointments until this point.”

It was not clear Wednesday how many of the alleged misallocated doses were intended solely for CPS’ use. CDPH has declined to answer WBEZ’s question on that and in an afternoon press conference did not address that specifically. But Chicago Public Schools officials clarified on Wednesday that not all the 6,000 doses were intended for their staff.

All staff have been offered a vaccine, CPS has said. But, CPS hasn’t said how many teachers have been vaccinated, or how many are still waiting for a dose.

A survey the district sent to staff to ask whether they still needed a vaccine received only 41% response, CPS said. Of the incomplete data that CPS does have, it showed just 30 percent of employees have been vaccinated as of March 15, according to a press release last week from the district.

The Chicago Internal Medical Practice And Research will be taking over vaccinations for CPS starting Thursday. People with appointments Wednesday will be rescheduled for the “near future,” the city said. On Wednesday, officials said 590 CPS staff had appointments scheduled for Wednesday, but they would be rescheduled.

The Chicago Teachers Union said some staff have had their appointments cancelled with less than 24 hours notice because of the incident.

The union called on city officials to audit where the vaccines for CPS staff went, and for the City Council to evaluate the city’s partnerships with organizations to administer the vaccine.

This is at least the third vaccine provider in Chicago to come under fire for either misusing their doses or charging inappropriately for vaccine appointments.

The Chicago Department of Public Health on Monday notified vaccine providers in a video that they would begin site visits to select providers in the next few weeks to ensure vaccine is being distributed according to the city’s equity-focused plan, and warned that those not doing so would face supply cuts.

The city recently cut off supply to Loretto Hospital after Block Club Chicago reported the hospital had vaccinated ineligible people close to the CEO, and WBEZ reported Loretto offered vaccines to ineligible judges.

And the city issued warnings to Michigan Avenue Immediate Care after WBEZ reported it was charging up to $195 for vaccine appointments. The clinic issued a statement saying it would issue refunds to the people who were charged.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to note that it’s unclear now if the 6,000 doses Immediate Express Care allegedly misused were all intended for CPS employees.

Mariah Woelfel is a general assignment reporter at WBEZ. Sarah Karp covers education at WBEZ. You can follow them on Twitter at @MariahWoelfel @SSKedreporter.

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