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City snuffs out smokers, says they won’t have priority for vaccine

Smokers are prioritized for COVID-19 vaccine shots by the CDC and Gov. J.B. Pritzker — but not by the city of Chicago.

Smokers like this person pictured in San Francisco will not be prioritized for COVID-19 vaccinations in Chicago, unlike the rest of Illinois.
Smokers like this person pictured in San Francisco will not be prioritized for COVID-19 vaccinations in Chicago, unlike the rest of Illinois.
AP Photos

Being a regular visitor to Flavor Country might get you to the front of the line for a COVID-19 shot in most of Illinois and beyond, but not in Chicago.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention raised eyebrows when it included smokers on the list of people who should be prioritized for vaccination because of increased vulnerability to the coronavirus due to underlying health conditions.

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker followed suit when he expanded the state’s pool of eligible vaccine recipients last month. So did officials in suburban Cook County, which will start inoculating people 16 and older with chronic conditions beginning Monday.

But Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Chicago Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady have snuffed out eligibility for smokers when registration opens to more residents with the city’s launch of vaccination Phase 1C on March 29.

“In this interim period where we just have very limited vaccine, we’re using the state’s 1B+ guidance, but we did not include smokers in that,” Arwady said during an online Q&A last week.

That doesn’t mean Chicagoans who light up — and who don’t qualify otherwise — can’t get a shot. They’ll just have to look for appointments with providers outside the city.

An estimated 15.5% of Illinois adults smoke, according to the CDC, or almost 2 million residents. That would shake out to more than 400,000 city dwellers.

Dr. Samuel Kim, a thoracic surgeon at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, previously told the Sun-Times that critics should remember nicotine is an addictive drug.

“Instead of thinking of this as a habit and more as an addiction, then I think more people will be understanding of this decision” to prioritize smokers for vaccination, Kim said.

Besides smoking, Chicago’s list of qualifying conditions for a shot mostly mirrors the state’s, including cancer, heart disease, diabetes, kidney disease, pregnancy, obesity and more.

The city also spells out several additional conditions that weren’t outlined by the state, including moderate to severe asthma, liver disease, schizophrenia spectrum disorders, thalassemia and HIV.

Here’s Chicago’s full list of health conditions that qualify recipients for a COVID-19 vaccination starting March 29:

  • Cancer (current diagnosis)
  • Cardiac, cardiovascular, and cerebrovascular disorders (including heart disease, coronary artery disease, and hypertension or high blood pressure)
  • Chronic Kidney Disease
  • Chronic respiratory disorders (including cystic fibrosis, moderate to severe asthma, pulmonary fibrosis, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease/emphysema [COPD])
  • Diabetes (Type 1 and Type 2)
  • Disability: physical, developmental, visual, hearing, or mental
  • Neurologic conditions (including dementia)
  • Down Syndrome
  • Immunocompromised state (weakened immune system) including from blood or bone marrow transplant, immune deficiencies, HIV, use of corticosteroids, or use of other immune weakening medicines
  • Liver disease (including hepatitis)
  • Pregnancy
  • Obesity: BMI ≥30 kg/m2
  • Schizophrenia spectrum disorders
  • Sickle Cell Disease