All with underlying conditions to be eligible for vaccine soon: ‘We need to waste no time in protecting them’

Chicago and suburban Cook County will not expand eligibility at this time because of the short supply of vaccine, Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said Thursday in a joint statement.

SHARE All with underlying conditions to be eligible for vaccine soon: ‘We need to waste no time in protecting them’
A Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine dose is administered at Richard J. Daley College last month.

A Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine dose is administered at Richard J. Daley College last month.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia / Sun-Times

Beginning Feb. 25, Illinois residents age 16 or older with underlying health conditions or disabilities will be eligible to receive the coronavirus vaccine, Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced Wednesday. 

That will include pregnant women and people with diabetes, heart disease, cancer or sickle cell disease, Pritzker said after touring a new mass vaccination site in downstate Quincy. 

The expansion of Phase 1B of Illinois’ distribution plan will follow U.S. Centers for Disease Control guidelines for vaccinating people with those and other conditions, the Democratic governor said.

Chicago and suburban Cook County, which receive doses from the federal government separately from the state, will not be expanding eligibility for now because of short supplies of vaccine.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot and County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said Thursday that following the state’s guidelines would add 1 million people to Phase 1b.

“We recognize the governor must make tough choices and consider needs across this diverse state, but given the limited supply of vaccine, we must also make the tough choices as the leaders of the most populous city and county in the state. We look forward to expanding eligibility as vaccine supply improves,” Lighfoot and Preckwinkle said in a joint statement.

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For now, about 4 million of the state’s 12.7 million residents have been given the green light to sign up for shots — if they’re able to track down an appointment to get one of the coveted doses that remain in short supply. 

Eligible residents so far include health care workers, nursing home residents and workers, some other “front-line essential” workers and all residents 65 or older. In the expanded Phase 1B the age requirement will be lowered to 16 for those with underlying conditions, though it’s not clear how large that population is. 

“Those who are under 65 and live with co-morbidities have an elevated risk of serious complications or even death,” Pritzker said. “We need to waste no time in protecting them.”

Chicago Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said she’d like the city to be able to expand its pool of vaccine recipients by the end of this month, too, but short supply means Chicago has only been able to inoculate between 5% and 10% of those currently eligible.

“If we add additional people right now to 1B, all we do is make it harder for the people who are already eligible to get the vaccine,” Arwady said. “We remain very focused on getting those people over 65, those in the communities that are driving our COVID outbreak, and making sure that they are getting access. We will have some more conversations, and again, if we’re able to get additional vaccine, we may be able to move sooner than expected.” 

Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks Wednesday at a mass vaccination site in downstate Quincy.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks Wednesday at a mass vaccination site in downstate Quincy.

State of Illinois livestream

Other conditions covered in the state’s expanded phase include people who have or have had chronic kidney disease, COPD, pulmonary disease, an “immunocompromised state” from a solid organ transplant and obesity, according to Pritzker’s office. 

“Governor Pritzker’s decision to expand Phase 1B to include people with disabilities appropriately prioritizes people with disabilities within the vaccination distribution plan, and we thank and applaud the Governor for his leadership,” said John Herring, executive director of the Illinois Network of Centers for Independent Living.

The governor noted weekly vaccine shipments from the federal government have increased about 30% since President Joe Biden took office, while a third vaccine developed by Johnson & Johnson is nearing federal approval. 

But doses have still been hard to come by for eligible Illinoisans. Almost 2.2 million doses have been shipped to the state in all, and about 1.5 million have made their way into arms. 

Only 327,413 people have received both required doses, or about 2.6% of the Illinois population. The Illinois Department of Public Health is aiming to vaccinate 80% of the population to achieve herd immunity. 

Nearly 63,000 doses were administered statewide Tuesday, officials said, the fourth-highest daily total ever, raising the state’s rolling seven-day average to a high of 55,135 shots doled out per day. 

“I wish I could make enough vaccine magically appear so that we could get all of our Illinoisans vaccinated right now, I really do,” Pritzker said. “That will happen over the next coming months, but today we all have to exercise patience as more vaccine is still being produced.”

A total of 517 vaccination locations have been set up statewide, including 134 new ones in the last week. 

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Infection rates have fallen significantly since the first Illinois doses were injected two months ago. 

Public health officials announced 2,825 newly diagnosed COVID-19 cases detected among 82,885 tests, keeping the state’s average positivity rate at 3.3% — as low as it’s dipped since summertime. 

Coronavirus hospitalizations are at a third of the state’s peak levels, too, with 2,082 patients occupying beds statewide as of Tuesday night. 

But the virus claimed 53 more lives, including 23 from the Chicago area. 

That daily toll is about average for the state over the last week. The fatality rate has shrunk by more than half compared to a month ago. 

Since last March, almost 1.2 million Illinoisans have been infected and at least 19,739 of those have died. 

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