The city of Chicago will require COVID vaccinations for all city employees this fall, Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced Wednesday.
“As cases of COVID-19 continue to rise, we must take every step necessary and at our disposal to keep everyone in our city safe and healthy,” Lightfoot said in a statement. “Getting vaccinated has been proven to be the best way to achieve that and make it possible to recover from this devastating pandemic. And so, we have decided to join other municipalities and government agencies across the nation, including the U.S. military, who are making this decision to protect the people who are keeping our cities and country moving. We have also been in close communication with our partners in the labor movement to create a vaccination policy that is workable, fair and effective,”
The policy will take effect on Oct. 15 and requires all city employees and volunteers to be fully vaccinated by that date. Employees can apply for medical or religious exemptions, but such requests will be reviewed by the Department of Human Resources on a case-by-case basis, the city said.
“The data shows that getting vaccinated is the best way to protect yourself and those you come in contact with from serious illness, hospitalization, or death from COVID-19,” Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady said in a statement. “Adopting and implementing this requirement is the responsible, common-sense approach, which is why we’re seeing so many other government agencies, companies, institutions, and organizations pursue this course of action.”
“Fully vaccinated” is defined as two weeks past the second dose of a two-dose mRNA vaccine or two weeks past a single dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Employees will need to submit proof of vaccination through an online COVID-19 Vaccine Portal.
News of a potential mandate for the thousands of city employees came earlier this week, on the same day the U.S. granted full approval for Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine.
The Chicago Federation of Labor criticized the new policy saying that they believe in the benefits of vaccination, "we do not believe punitive mandates are the right path to significantly increase vaccine update."
“In fact, we believe this announcement may harden opposition to the vaccine instead of protecting the workers who have sacrificed so much over the past 18 months," Chicago Federation of Labor President Bob Reiter said in a statement. "We are still in very preliminary discussions with the city about a proposed vaccination policy and we hope this process can be resolved through policymaking, not public communications. However, any discussion around a vaccine policy should include not only medical and religious exemptions, but also testing alternatives as we continue to build trust around the benefits of voluntary vaccination.”
With the nation seeing a surge in cases of the Delta variant, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker earlier this month announced vaccine requirements for employees of state-run congregant care facilities, including veterans’ homes and correctional facilities.
“By and large, residents of these state-run facilities have done what they can do to protect themselves by getting vaccinated,” he said at the time. “And yet, many of the long-term care facilities’ employees have not been vaccinated.”
State agencies will be required to make the vaccine readily available to employees, and negotiations remain ongoing with unions about implementation of the new requirements.
Last week, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle announced a mandatory vaccination policy for county workers, saying it's "the pragmatic and responsible thing to do as we work to put the pandemic behind us." County employees must be vaccinated by Oct. 15, according to a news release.