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Chicago looking at ‘Vax Pass’ for concerts and other events, public health commissioner says

Chicago Tribune logo Chicago Tribune 4/28/2021 Alice Yin, Chicago Tribune
Chicago public health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady holds up Mayor Lori Lightfoot's COVID-19 vaccination card on Jan. 25, 2021, at St. Bernard Hospital in the Englewood neighborhood. © Erin Hooley/Chicago Tribune Chicago public health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady holds up Mayor Lori Lightfoot's COVID-19 vaccination card on Jan. 25, 2021, at St. Bernard Hospital in the Englewood neighborhood.

Chicago’s top public health official on Tuesday said she expects the city to debut a form of a vaccination passport requirement next month for access to events geared toward young adults.

Chicago public health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady gave few details about the initiative, but said it will be dubbed “Vax Pass” and roll out in May as a means to encourage vaccination particularly in younger people in exchange for attendance at concerts or other events as the second pandemic summer begins.

“You get a vaccine, you’ll be able to get into a concert or get into an event,” Arwady said. “(We’re) really thinking, particularly for younger people, how can we make vaccine something that people are excited about getting?”

Another campaign called “Vax and Relax” also will encourage people to get shots — this time with the reward of free haircuts, manicures and more through partnerships with salons, Arwady said.

She said the idea was not considered a “bribe” but a public health measure.

“We all want to put this behind us and getting people vaccinated is the way to do this, so I don’t think of it as a bribe,” Arwady said.

Arwady declined to comment on the return of specific summer events such as Lollapalooza, but she did hint that the overall Vax Pass rollout might imitate the European Union’s plans to allow travelers from the U.S. as long as they are fully vaccinated this summer.

Arwady discussed the Vax Pass concept during a news conference announcing that the city will be using almost $10 million in federal funding to prioritize racial equity in health outcomes amid the coronavirus pandemic by dividing the city into six geographic zones.

Applications for contracts paid by $9.6 million in COVID-19 relief funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will begin this week and close at noon on May 28, Arwady said.

The initiative, titled “Healthy Chicago Equity Zones,” will begin with community outreach for populations hesitant about getting the COVID-19 vaccine and will be led by regional groups in those neighborhoods.

To address barriers in those hard-hit communities that lack vaccine coverage, the coalition of community groups will tackle socioeconomic factors such as health care access, housing and more, according to a city news release.

“Community-based organizations have played an essential role throughout the pandemic, and their tireless efforts saved lives,” Mayor Lori Lightfoot wrote in a statement. “With Healthy Chicago Equity Zones, we are bringing new resources to local coalitions as they tackle COVID-19 and other longstanding public health challenges in their neighborhoods.”

Chicago this week has obtained enough vaccine to meet demand for the first time since its vaccination rollout began in December, Arwady said.

While the city will not require residents to get vaccinated, the city is looking for ways to encourage people to get the vaccine so life can further return to normal.

“There’s a big national conversation as you know about, about vaccination proof and vaccination travel,” Arwady said. “My goal at this point is to say, you want to be part of the fun, get vaccinated.”

ayin@chicagotribune.com

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