CHICAGO (CBS) — Illinois state lawmakers can now get the COVID-19 vaccine during Phase 1B of the state’s inoculation plan, after Gov. JB Pritzker approved the Illinois General Assembly’s request to receive the shots.
Although state lawmakers do not qualify as essential frontline workers under CDC guidelines for Phase 1B of vaccine distribution, a spokeswoman for Pritzker’s office said “At the request of members of the General Assembly, any of the 177 state legislators who wish to be inoculated will be allowed to receive their vaccine.”READ MORE: 5 Killed, 18 Wounded In Chicago Weekend Shootings
“The State of Illinois has urgent and vital business that must be addressed, and we hope that the General Assembly will engage in a robust and productive schedule in coming weeks and months,” Pritzker spokeswoman Jordan Abudayyeh said in an email.
The state began Phase 1B of vaccine distribution last week, making the inoculations available to anyone 65 or older, and frontline essential workers such as teachers, police officers, firefighters, paramedics, grocery store workers, and more.
After touring a vaccination site in Champaign County on Tuesday, Pritzker said he will continue to wait to be vaccinated when he qualifies in later phases of the inoculation plan.
“I think it’s important for many of us to set an example in that way,” he said.
The governor noted that, when state lawmakers met for several days for lame duck session in January, and for the new Illinois General Assembly to be sworn in, lawmakers and their staffs later were advised to self-isolate for 14 days because three people at the Bank of Springfield Center, where the House met, had tested positive for COVID-19.
Pritzker said it’s especially important for lawmakers to be able to begin meeting more regularly, given they did not hold session for more than seven months after passing the state budget last May.
“We need the state of Illinois, and its legislature, and its government to function well,” he said. “We had seven months or so, even longer, without any legislation going through. There was no meeting of the General Assembly from May all the way through to the lame duck session.”
House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch praised Pritzker’s decision to make the vaccine available to lawmakers now.
“While part of my job as Speaker is to relay the range of opinions among all House members, it was important that this decision rest with the Governor and his team of health experts,” Welch said in a statement. “The issues and challenges facing the General Assembly are enormous, so this is a welcomed step in the interest of government functionality and safety. Whether or not to get a vaccine is a personal choice for every member, but I encourage those who are at-risk or have vulnerable family members to strongly consider it.”READ MORE: Chicago Weather: Colder And Blustery Sunday Night
Illinois Senate Republican Leader Dan McConchie, who has criticized the governor’s vaccine plans, including making the vaccine available to prisoners in Phase 1B, but not to people under 65 with life-threatening conditions, called the governor’s decision to make the vaccine available to lawmakers during Phase 1B “ridiculous.”
“Yesterday in, my office I had a transplant recipient who necessarily has to take immunosuppressant drugs and so forth, and is very vulnerable to COVID-19, but because they’re under 65 there is zero mechanisms, there is no ability for them to get the vaccine, even if their doctor says their life depends on it,” McConchie said.
“I cannot tell my constituents who have life-threatening health conditions that I’m am going to get the vaccine before they do. Right now, those under 65 who have health issues and are at risk of death from the virus have no opportunity to get the vaccine, even if their doctor says it’s necessary for their life and health. We need to help those at most risk of death before giving it to politicians,” he added.
House Republican Leader Jim Durkin said lawmakers are getting flooded with calls from constituents who qualify for vaccinations but are having trouble setting up appointments.
He said state lawmakers who are under 65 should “need to wait our turn” until later phases of vaccine distribution.
“If we have members of the General Assembly who have pre-existing conditions, they will have an opportunity to go before most of the public, but we should not leapfrog over anyone in this crisis,” he said.
Illinois Senate President Don Harmon said allowing lawmakers to get the vaccine would allow any who are at high risk from the virus to meet during any upcoming session days in-person without risking their health.
“Ultimately this is a personal, individual decision. I would encourage those with underlying medical conditions to seek out an appointment. At the same time, we have a vaccine shortage and millions of hardworking Illinoisans are waiting to get their shots. I hope that a national COVID strategy under the new Biden administration will bring about a fast, efficient and equitable vaccine distribution process across the country,” Harmon said in a statement.
Neither the Illinois House nor the Illinois Senate has held any session days since the day after the new Illinois General Assembly was sworn in on Jan. 13. The House has since canceled all but one day of session that had been scheduled for February, and will have session only on Feb. 10 to vote on the chamber’s rules for procedure. The Senate has moved all of its February session dates online. The House has yet to approve rules for meeting remotely during the pandemic.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Ald. Roderick Sawyer (6th) also received vaccines last month after Chicago moved into Phase 1B of the city’s vaccination plan. Under Chicago Department of Public Health guidance, “City government leaders and City elected officials critical to maintain continuity of governmental operations and services” are included in Phase 1B.MORE NEWS: Shedd Aquarium Asks Restaurants To Help Keep Plastic Out Of Great Lakes
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