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Soon after COVID-19 vaccines became available, public health officials and providers expressed a need for volunteers to help administer shots, especially in communities of color that were hit the hardest by the pandemic. In response to this need, veteran Public Health Nurse (PHN) Peg Dublin recruited fellow PHNs and activists and founded the Chicago Vaccine Brigade (Brigade). Since January 2021, the Brigade has assisted with COVID-19 vaccine distribution, provided vaccines and education within healthcare and community-based organizations, and supported efforts to promote an equitable vaccination process in Chicago.
The Brigade garnered attention from a public radio interview, and thanks to this media spotlight, both its networking and individual outreach efforts quickly expanded. Today the Brigade consists of 175 members including PHNs, physicians, dentists, and educators. In addition to getting shots in arms, the Brigade provides a range of other services such as door-to-door canvassing, scheduling at-home vaccines, providing education about vaccine hesitancy, tracking and entering vaccine data, and offering general support at vaccination sites. Members are divided among committees focused on administration, vaccinations, outreach, and internal education.
With the help of the Brigade, 77% of Chicagoans have received their first vaccine, and 69% have completed the vaccine series.* Despite these achievements, though, the Brigade’s work is far from over. Members are continuing to promote vaccine access, educate the public about current vaccines and possible future ones, and explain treatment options. Along with other partners, the Brigade is involved in a citywide assessment of the availability of paxlovid (antiviral therapy to treat COVID-19).
The Brigade members are also working with community groups, schools, and parents to increase COVID-19 vaccine rates among children five years and older, and once approved, will promote vaccines for children under age five as well. These efforts are particularly critical, as only 41% of Chicago’s 5- through 11-year-olds are fully vaccinated. A recent survey also found that geographic and racial disparities have influenced which children receive vaccines. More specifically, almost 80% of parents in the north and central regions of Chicago reported that their children were vaccinated or likely to be vaccinated, whereas those from the western and southern neighborhoods were least likely (52% and 43%, respectively) to receive a vaccine. The same disproportions apply to race. White children were most likely to already be vaccinated or were “very likely” to receive a vaccine (75%), followed by Asian/other race children (70%), Latinx/Hispanic children (60%), and Black children (47%). **
The Brigade’s success can be attributed to collaboration at all levels. It works closely with small clinics, community organizations, coalitions, and mass vaccination sites, among others, and it aligned with the Chicagoland Vaccine Partnership (CVP), a coalition of 165+ organizations dedicated to coordinating resources and sharing learnings.
Over the last year, VNA has supported the Brigade with two small grants to support maintenance of the Brigade’s website (which shares information about vaccination and education events and recruits members), and purchase of the supplies needed to perform outreach and conduct events. VNA has been impressed by the Brigade’s ability to quickly recruit volunteers and organize, and inspired by its ongoing adaptability and perseverance during these tumultuous times. We look forward to following the Brigade’s work to improve the health of Chicagoland communities and continuing to partner with it when and where we can.
Case report: Vaccine Brigade Chicago, Illinois: From founding February to July, 2021
Crain’s Chicago: What vaccine rates look like at Chicago schools