Protect Chicago Plus

Data-Driven, Neighborhood-Based Strategies to Reach Black and Latinx Chicagoans

In January 2021 Chicago City Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced Protect Chicago Plus, a targeted COVID-19 vaccination distribution program designed with equity as the central strategy to ensure that vaccines are reaching communities hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. The plan responds to the uneven distribution of COVID-19 burden on Black and Latinx Chicagoans by focusing on three main strategies:

  1. Focus vaccine supply and resources on the 15 most-burdened neighborhoods as identified by the City’s COVID Vulnerability Index (CCVI); within each priority neighborhood, the City is partnering with anchor organizations to create a neighborhood task force made up of diverse stakeholders, including grassroot activist organizations, local businesses, faith leaders and local community health providers, such as federally qualified health centers (FQHCs), to develop community-led outreach and distribution strategies.
  2. Develop vaccination and engagements strategies in partnership with local community stakeholders; this includes resource sharing and assistance with appointment scheduling through strategies such as door-to-door outreach, face-to-face outreach in grocery stores, laundromats, and other high-traffic areas and phone and text banking.
  3. Remove potential barriers and allow for flexibility in vaccination prioritization to ensure as many people who are most at risk of exposure to and contracting COVID-19 are getting access to vaccines.

Key Partners

  • Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH)
  • Christina Anderson, Deputy Commissioner, Chief of Operations for COVID Response
  • Sandi Brown, Deputy Commissioner, Chief Racial Equity Officer

Key Funding Mechanisms

  • ELC Funds and CARES Act Funds


  • CDPH laid a strong foundation for data by focusing on health equity and examining sociodemographic gaps in life expectancy between the City’s White, Black and Latinx communities. This informed the City’s policy directive to require all testing providers and now vaccine providers to collect race/ethnicity data.
  • The Mayor formed a Racial Equity Rapid Response Team early in the pandemic, comprised of community-based organizations (CBOs) and City leaders, which met 2-3 times per week to discuss strategies for communications, outreach, testing, prevention and quarantine strategies for hardest hit communities. CDPH and City leaders elevated and acted on strategies from these meetings.
  • CDPH utilized information from Healthy Chicago 2025 to predict vaccine hesitancy rates based on historic data and develop tailored outreach and engagement strategies.
  • CDPH created the CCVI, which layers pre-existing conditions that make people medically vulnerable to severe COVID-19 disease, COVID-19 case rates, hospitalization rates, and death rates, and drivers oh high disease incidence such as employment type and essential workers status. CDPH used this data to direct resources to high-risk communities.
  • CDPH modeled their neighborhood-based, boots on the ground approach after campaigns like the Census. The City quickly pivoted existing under-employed personnel such as Safe Passage workers (workers that ensure children have safe passage to school), as well as community-based volunteers, to assist in COVID-19 outreach and education efforts. COVID-19 neighborhood strike teams were able to successfully knock on over 400,000 doors in Chicago’s hardest hit neighborhoods!
  • CDPH also worked with residents to identify locations for vaccine outreach or activations in places where community members frequent, such as grocery stores and laundromats.
  • CDPH put out a request for proposals (RFP) for a communication firm that specializes in communications and messaging for Black and Latinx communities. The firm is working to create community-informed materials to address vaccine hesitancy and improve vaccine uptake.
  • CDPH worked to create focused outreach campaigns, such as Senior Week, to increase outreach and vaccine uptake among specific prioritized populations.
  • Local leaders are moving quickly and nimbly to create spaces for groups that still need additional outreach and access support, such as standing up a working group for residents with physical disabilities and residents with intellectual or developmental disabilities. Health leaders quickly assembled staff, members of the Public Information Officer (PIO) Office, and community-based partners to determine specific needs for people with disabilities. Some strategies identified by the working group included having staff wearing clear face masks for the deaf or hard of hearing, and ensuring print materials available on the website are accessible for residents who are visually impaired.
  • CDPH is working to engage trusted partners or knowledgeable staff to double check computer-based translations and other communications materials to ensure all engagement and outreach materials are culturally appropriate and relevant in all translated languages.
  • The City is working with local community colleges to create vaccine ambassador certification programs for people who have received the vaccine and are willing to support outreach efforts in their communities. They are working to identify small stipends and/or continuing education credits for participants in the program.
  • Providers in the area have partnered with ZocDoc to coordinate vaccine availability in real time across the City when vaccine access is no longer restricted.
  • CDPH is having conversations now about the long-term impacts of COVID-19 on their communities and thinking about how to make significant policy, program, or procedural changes to improve the health opportunities and outcomes for Black and Brown Chicagoans. CDPH is redeploying contact tracers to do survivor interviews to better understand how resident lives have been impacted and changed as a result of the pandemic in order to develop long-term equity and recovery strategies.

Key Takeaways

  • Form trusting, collaborative relationships between public health partners and community-based partners; these partnerships allowed residents to take the lead in developing effective outreach and engagement strategies for Black and Latinx Chicagoans most impacted by the pandemic.
  • Utilize existing knowledge, tools and data to make informed predictions and decisions about the impact of COVID-19 on residents; deploy resources to neighborhoods most disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, including through neighborhood strike teams.
  • Leverage existing and effective public health models (e.g. census outreach) and pivot underemployed staff to quickly stand up and successfully execute ambitious, on the ground outreach strategies.
  • Train trusted community members and trusted and knowledgeable medical staff to serve as community ambassadors/messengers.