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Chicago's West Side Gets The Vaccine First: 'So Many People Have Died Here Because Of COVID In The Community'

CHICAGO (CBS) --The backdrop for Chicago's first COVID vaccinations is significant.

CBS 2 Investigator Megan Hickey reports from Chicago's Austin neighborhood. The zip code 60644, which includes Loretto Hospital, has one of the highest COVID-19 death rates in the city.

The death rate there is much higher than the city's overall. COVID-19 is pervasive in the area where one in every 18 residents has had the virus.

Chris Patterson is glad Loretto Hospital was chosen to host the first vaccinations. He is with the Institute for NonViolence Chicago. He has seen the reality behind the statistics firsthand.

"In the sense of it behind ground zero, where so many people have died here because of COVID in the community," Patterson said.

The 60644 zip code has a population of just under 50,000 and so far, has had a staggering 102 COVID-19 deaths. The medical professionals at Loretto Hospital have been serving the community, month after month, to save everyone that they can.

"Life expectancy in Chicago is 88.2 years of life. But drive 20 minutes to Austin and it drops to 68.2 years of life," said George N. Miller, Jr., President and CEO of Loretto Hospital.

Patterson's organization, NonViolence Chicago, has been handing out PPE and thousands of meals for families throughout the pandemic. A UIC study showed Black and Latino residents have a significantly higher death rate than other Chicagoans.

A rise in mortality connected with heightened barriers to social distancing and low health insurance coverage.

"We were seeing it once COVID hit immediately Austin and West Garfield Park were hit hardest," Patterson said.

"We are the one most disproportionately suffering from this virus," said Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who added that city officials will track the race and ethnicity of those who get the vaccine to ensure that those groups at most risk of dying are getting vaccinated.

Patterson is glad the city is honing in on the West Side.

"The prioritization of the vaccinations was in the right place," Patterson said.

Loretto Hospital is slated to become the site of three separate COVID vaccine trials in 2021, two of which are with Merck. In total, they're looking to enroll 5,000 potential participants.

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