Illinois expands vaccine eligibility ahead of April 12 universal rollout

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By PETER HANCOCK

Capitol News Illinois

SPRINGFIELD – The Illinois Department of Public Health announced that more groups of people will be eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccinations ahead of April 12 when everyone over age 16 will become eligible.

Starting March 22, higher education staff, government workers and members of the media are eligible to receive shots.

A week later, on March 29, restaurant staff, construction trade workers and religious leaders will become eligible.

“As more vaccine becomes available in the coming weeks and months, we will continue to make sure we are reaching people who are at greater risk of exposure to the virus or from suffering severe illness due to COVID-19,” IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said in a news release. “While we will continue to prioritize individuals who are 65 years and older, as well as health care workers and individuals with underlying medical conditions, we want to maintain our momentum going forward and continue to increase our march towards herd immunity.”

Vaccines first became available in Illinois on Dec. 15. At that time, only frontline health care workers and the staff and residents of long-term care facilities were eligible.

That list was expanded Jan. 25 to include all individuals over age 65 as well as frontline essential workers, including first responders, K-12 teachers and other public-facing industries. It was expanded again on Feb. 25 to include anyone age 16 and over with certain high-risk conditions or disabilities.

During a news conference in Belleville on March 19, Gov. JB Pritzker said a little more than 60 percent of seniors age 65 and over had received at least one vaccine dose. Under a plan announced earlier in the week, when that number reaches 70 percent, and as long as certain other metrics are met, the state will enter what he is calling a “bridge phase” to full reopening of the economy that will allow for larger capacity limits in public gatherings.

(Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government and distributed to more than 400 newspapers statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.)