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City Leaders Hope New Campaign Will Boost Vaccination Rate, But Health Professionals Say It Will Take Time

CHICAGO (CBS) -- A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advisory panel voted Thursday on exactly who can get a booster Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine shot.

The panel approved a third dose for those 65 and older, a well as people 18 to 64 who are at high risk for severe COVID-19. The booster has also been authorized for those living in nursing homes.

Late Wednesday, the Food and Drug Administration granted emergency use authorization for Pfizer boosters.

The CDC vote comes as Chicago lays out a new plan to vaccinate more people, and here's why - only 57 percent of people eligible are fully vaccinated in the city.

As CBS 2 Political Investigator Dana Kozlov reported, the vaccination numbers vary neighborhood by neighborhood. Englewood has the lowest vaccination rate in the city.

City leaders hope this new campaign will boost that rate. But health professionals say it is still going to take time.

"I do see attitudes changing," said Maya Green, the chief medical officer at the Howard Brown clinic in Englewood.

Green acknowledges she is frustrated at the area's low vaccination rate, but she gets it.

"Just hesitancy, you know – we have to understand this hesitancy comes for the reason, and that reason is history," she said.

It is a history of health care inequities in Black and Brown communities, and a lack of trust. The city's new "Protect Chicago 77" initiative aims to change some attitudes.

The mayor's goal is to have 77 percent of the city's population vaccinated with at least one shot by the end of the year.

"One dose," Mayor Lori Lightfoot said in announcing the plan. "I think that's a modest goal."

The target of 77 percent is not a random number. It matches the number of official community areas in Chicago.

"We have been making really good progress in Chicago against COVID, and that is thanks to the way our 77 communities have stepped up," said Chicago Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady. "The reason we have pegged 77 percent as a goal here is not that 77 precent is a magical number in terms of hitting herd immunity, but it reflects those 77 communities."

City officials will launch a new marketing campaign to call on unvaccinated Chicagoans to get their shots. The city also will work with community groups in each neighborhood to help develop targeted vaccination strategies to help people in every community get vaccinated.

The city also will produce a series of videos to help people who have been vaccinated convince unvaccinated family and friends get their shots.

"I do not want you thinking we are done vaccinating here in Chicago, because this is how we are going to get through the winter. We're not done with COVID. I wish we were," Arwady said.

Green said in communities like Englewood, that means speaking the right language – through artists, churches, and word of mouth.

"Some people get it because their friend got it, and their friend is able to tell them – because they trust their friend more than they trust the 15-minute-in-the-clinic doctor, which is valid," Green said.

Englewood falls into the 60621 ZIP code, which has a current vaccination rate of 35.6 percent. The 60633 ZIP code – which includes Hegewisch, Deering, and also parts of south suburban Burnham – and 60649 in the South Shore area, also have rates below 40 percent.

"We know that these conversations are challenging; that people still have a lot of myths and concerns and hesitancy about the vaccine," Mayor Lightfoot said.

"So that's another thing Howard Brown is doing. We build ourselves off of affirming care – which means, you know, you don't yuck somebody's yum. You don't judge somebody's way of thinking. You meet a person where they are, and you navigate a way to help together."

Green said in particular, it's time to stop blaming people for not getting vaccinated.

"I really don't believe people are out there just refusing the vaccine just to double on refusal," Green said. "You know, people have, you know, real concerns about the vaccine from their experience."

Mayor Lightfoot said the new campaign will even bring more vaccine doses to people's doorsteps. That is something Dr. Green said has worked in Englewood.

Green said many in Englewood in particular said there are still many people who do not want to leave their homes for a vaccine.

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