COVID-19 vaccine should be mandatory for state workers who care for high-risk people

Making the vaccine mandatory would lead to better results and would make state veterans’ homes more secure for the staff and residents.

SHARE COVID-19 vaccine should be mandatory for state workers who care for high-risk people
From_the_LaSalle_Veterans_home.jpg

Dr. Maung Win receives the COVID-19 vaccine.

Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs

The first round of the long-awaited COVID-19 vaccine was administered to residents and employees of Illinois veterans’ homes in late December, but data shows that the number of caregivers vaccinated is worrisome.

Seventy-four percent of residents in the homes have been vaccinated — that’s 95% of residents in Anna, 90% in Manteno and Quincy, and 71% in LaSalle — according to the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs. However, the people charged with providing care to our most vulnerable residents have been vaccinated in much lower percentages. Only 40% of the staff throughout Illinois have received the vaccine as of Dec. 31.

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After waiting more than nine excruciating months for a vaccine, that is unacceptable. We believe the vaccine should be a mandatory condition of employment in all facilities in the state that care for high-risk individuals, especially the elderly. The only temporary exception would be for those who recently had COVID-19 or currently have it.

Employees of veterans’ homes who have not been vaccinated include some people who were hospitalized, currently recovering from COVID-19 or currently receiving antibody treatment, Bridget Dooley, IDVA public information officer, told the Sun-Times. Those medical exceptions are justified. But other employees simply have declined to be vaccinated — and that is unacceptable.

They cannot be allowed to put others at risk by refusing to get a vaccination that science makes clear is safe and efficient.

Dooley said the department is engaging in aggressive education outreach and working with the unions that represent the employees to strongly encourage them to take the vaccine. She said the Centers for Disease Control does not recommend forcing people into taking the vaccine, and the department can’t require the staff to take the vaccine because of legal protections from the union.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents workers at the state veterans’ homes, has been championing the need for frontline workers to have the vaccine available to them.

There’s nothing in their union contract that speaks to the issue or would stand in the way of required vaccinations, Anders Lindall, spokesman for AFSCME Council 31, told the Sun-Times. Poor planning, collaboration and communication was to blame for the poor turnout, he said.

The state should update at least weekly what percentage of workers in state facilities for the elderly and other vulnerable populations have received the vaccine. And, in our view, the vaccine for such workers should be a condition of employment.

Send letters toletters@suntimes.com.

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