Pritzker expanding vaccine eligibility to include more medically vulnerable under 65
People under age 65 who have medical conditions that place them at a high risk for severe cases of COVID-19 will be eligible for vaccination beginning Feb. 25.
Among those eligible are people with cancer, kidney disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and other lung diseases, diabetes, heart problems, weakened immunity after a solid organ transplant, obesity, pregnancy and sickle cell disease, according to a news release from the governor's office.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker said his decision to include the newly eligible residents follows guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Advocates for those with medical conditions praised the change as potentially lifesaving, but others criticized it because many people age 65 and over are still desperate to get scarce vaccination slots after weeks of trying.
Pritzker said "ramped up" supplies of vaccines to Illinois soon will help more people get vaccine appointments in the state's Phase 1B, which is everyone 65 and older and essential workers, as well as the newly added group.
"As quickly as we receive enough vaccine supply, we need to waste no time in protecting them," Pritzker said Wednesday during a tour of a large-scale vaccination site in Adams County.
State health officials announced Wednesday that another 62,923 doses of the vaccine had made it into the arms of Illinois residents and workers. That brings the total number of vaccinations to 1,480,079 since the rollout began in mid-December.
That includes 327,413 Illinois residents who are fully vaccinated, roughly 2.6% of the state's population, according to Illinois Department of Public Health records. Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two doses weeks apart.
Pritzker said that while shipments of the vaccine coming in more slowly than he'd like, federal officials this week promised 5% more doses than Illinois originally was slated to receive. Another 18,200 doses were shipped to Illinois Tuesday.
Pritzker noted President Joe Biden's administration has enacted the Defense Production Act to increase supplies of already approved vaccines. A one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine is expected to receive emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration soon, potentially increasing vaccine supplies to states.
"Illinois is moving forward in accordance with guidance from the CDC to expand our eligible population as supply allows, getting us closer to the point when the vaccine is widely available to all who want it," Pritzker said.
Illinois Senate Minority Leader Dan McConchie, a Hawthorn Woods Republican, had urged Pritzker to include the medically vulnerable.
"I am pleased to hear that the sickest among us and at most risk of death from COVID-19, regardless of age, will soon have access to the vaccine," McConchie said. "While the state should have provided some method from the very beginning for those whose doctors have been insisting that their patients' life or health depends on being vaccinated, there is now a light at the end of a very long tunnel for those in greatest need."
Pritzker noted Illinois has administered the fifth most vaccine inoculations of any state. It is the sixth most populous.
"We're punching above our weight class, so to speak," he said. "But we have a long way to go, no doubt."
COVID-19 has killed another 53 Illinois residents and infected 2,825 more people in the state, health officials said in reporting their single-day tally.
Since the outbreak began, 19,739 Illinoisans have died and 1,724,325 have been infected.
The state's case positivity rate stands at 3.3%, based on a seven-day average, and is at its lowest point since late July, according to IDPH records. Case positivity rates allow health workers to track the level of infection.
Illinois hospitals also reported 2,082 patients are being treated for the virus. Of those hospitalized, 232 are in intensive care units.
Many of those who wind up being hospitalized have underlying conditions that place them at a greater risk.