Suburban reaction to Pritzker's vaccination edict for schools? 'Big deal, we already did that'
With 16 years of teaching science under his belt, Bob Holloway wasn't hesitant about getting a COVID-19 vaccine when it was offered last spring.
To his delight, neither were the vast majority of his colleagues at Dundee-Crown High School in Carpentersville.
That's why he believes Thursday's edict from Gov. J.B. Pritzker mandating vaccines for all school staffs, college faculty members and college students, as well as health care employees statewide, won't cause many waves at his suburban school district.
"It's just common courtesy in the sense that we're trying to stop the virus, so the more we can do to keep it from living, the sooner it will disappear," he said. "That's why I think when they announced the vaccine mandate (for teachers), everyone was kind of like, 'Big deal, we already did that.'"
Teachers union officials were also on board with the requirement that all schoolteachers and staffs from prekindergarten through 12th grade get immunized against the respiratory ailment that has killed 23,875 in Illinois so far. They noted a weekly testing requirement for those who might still be hesitant is also an important component to Pritzker's mandate.
"We are committed to helping our locals negotiate the terms and implementation of the vaccine mandate and other safety policies in school districts, colleges and universities statewide," Illinois Federation of Teachers President Dan Montgomery and Illinois Education Association President Kathi Griffin said in a joint statement following the governor's announcement. "Collaborative discussions between our unions and employers are critically necessary to ensure that our members' concerns are addressed and that they have a voice in how safety policies are applied."
First doses of the vaccine are required by Sept. 5 for health care workers, including nursing home employees, school district educators and support staffs, and higher education instructors, staff and students. Those who don't comply will have to undergo weekly COVID-19 testing.
New York City this week ordered public school staffs to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Teacher vaccine requirements are particularly important because children 11 and younger are not yet eligible to be vaccinated, health officials say.
The Illinois mandate, which overlaps in several places with existing rules, are a response to a spike in COVID-19 infections fueled by the highly contagious delta variant, particularly in the southern and central areas of the state.
The majority of colleges in the state require vaccinations already. Most hospital systems in Illinois have also mandated vaccination for workers. Many nursing homes have as well, but industry officials still welcomed the governor's mandate.
"With the rise of the highly contagious delta variant, we recognized bolder action was necessary to protect the most vulnerable," Health Care Council of Illinois spokesman Kevin Heffernan said. "The vaccine is the most effective way to put an end to this pandemic. This mandate is a step in that direction."
Dr. Emily Landon, head of the University of Chicago's infectious disease prevention and control program, said the governor's vaccine mandate for certain workers is a necessary step.
"People in public service need to be vaccinated for their safety and ours," she said. "People who choose not to be vaccinated are making a choice with real consequences. A choice to forego vaccination is bad for individual health, the health of their friends and neighbors, and the economy."
Still, in the heavily vaccinated suburbs, some school district employees don't believe the mandate is that big of an issue.
"Honestly, I haven't heard anyone grumble even before this," said Andrea Ciavarella, a lunch recess supervisor in Schaumburg Township Elementary District 54. "I just don't understand the reason anyone wouldn't want to get vaccinated."
• The Associated Press contributed to this report.