coronavirus illinois

Illinois to Vaccinate Inmates Ahead of Those With High-Risk Conditions, Lawmaker Questions Decision

Inmates are included in Phase 1B of Illinois' vaccination plan, which is set to start Jan. 25

The state of Illinois will prioritize inmates in its second round of coronavirus vaccinations, placing the group ahead of those with high-risk medical conditions, according to updated information from the state's Department of Public Health.

In line with its first phase of vaccinations, Illinois began administering COVID-19 doses to hospital workers as well as long-term care facility staff and residents in December.

The second phase of the rollout, Phase 1B, will begin Jan. 25. It will include residents aged 65 years and older as well as "front line essential workers" such as first responders, education workers, corrections, childcare workers, grocery store employees and postal service workers.

According to updated guidance on the IDPH website, as of Jan. 18, inmates are now included in Phase 1B. This puts inmates ahead of persons aged 16 to 64 years old with high-risk medical conditions, which are listed in Phase 1C.

Also in that phase are other essential workers, which may include individuals in transportation, food service, housing, finance and energy fields.

Previously, "incarcerated/detained people and staff" were listed behind Phase 2, which included those with moderate comorbid conditions and people in homeless shelters, according to Illinois' COVID-19 vaccination plan, which was dated Dec. 4.

However, IDPH noted that the information included in the report was subject to change.

In a statement, the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois applauded Gov. J.B. Pritzker's decision to move up inmates to Phase 1B, calling it a policy that "makes sense."

"We urge everyone to ignore the temptation of political attacks on this decision. The suggestion that someone should die from COVID complications simply because they are incarcerated fails to recognize the value of human life," the ACLU statement read in part. "Vaccinating prisoners will save lives in the facilities and in the communities surrounding them..."

However, one legislator who talked to NBC 5 said he doesn't believe healthy inmates should be vaccinated before people with COVID-19 risk factors.

"Why we are putting healthy prison inmates in front of people with high-risk medical conditions is something I fundamentally don't understand," said Illinois Sen. Dan McConchie, R-Hawthorn Woods.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "the prioritization of correctional staff and incarcerated persons differ by jurisdiction..." The CDC, however, noted that outbreaks in correctional facilities are often difficult to control due to the inability to physically distance, limited space for isolation and a short supply of tests.

The public health institute added "sub-prioritization planning for vaccination within this group may be necessary based on facility-level or individual-level factors."

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