Faculty, staff and other advocates for Illinois colleges and universities are asking Gov. JB Pritzker to allow higher education employees to receive COVID-19 vaccines during the state’s current phase of vaccine rollout.
Illinois has been in Phase 1b of its vaccination campaign for nearly two weeks, but the frontline essential workers currently eligible for COVID vaccines only include teachers and staff at pre-K through 12 schools.
The Illinois Federal of Teachers this week sent a petition to the governor and the Illinois Department of Public Health urging them to revise the rollout’s eligibility requirements.
The petition currently has over 3,000 signatures.
John Miller of the University Professionals of Illinois ⸺ an affiliate of the IFT ⸺ says he doesn’t understand why the Pritzker administration would differentiate postsecondary workers from primary and secondary education workers , especially since both groups include employees still working in person.
“It’s not just the teachers in the classroom, but it’s also the faculty and staff,” Miller said. “So, there’s building service workers working in the dormitories, cleaning rooms, janitorial work. You have food service workers, etc. all there who are working in-person and they are excluded from 1B, unlike where other states are.”
Researchers at Boston University identified at least 19 states which included higher education personnel in their respective Phase 1B distributions.
In January, the Centers for Disease Control and the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommended states to classify those in higher education as Phase 1B frontline workers.
In an interview with Peoria Public Radio Friday, Pritzker said the reason for not including colleges and universities in Illinois’ 1B rollout was due to a lack of vaccines.
“We tried very hard to follow the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control,” Pritzker said. “Mitigations are easier for [postsecondary institutions] to have imposed, that professors and people in higher ed staff and so on, could be put into the 1C category, or at least back behind K-12.”
University of Illinois Springfield chancellor Karen Whitney ⸺ who also signed onto the IFT petition ⸺ said although her school does have professors and staff working remotely, a number of employees are still working on campus and would benefit from being vaccinated.
“I think right now ⸺ particularly with concerns about increased transmission and variance of the virus ⸺ that we ask that the folks who are working in this way are ‘educational workers’, similar to other groups classified in this 1B,” Whitney said.
If changes are not made to the current rollout plan, colleges and universities will have to wait until the next phase of vaccine rollouts ⸺ Phase 1C.
However, some in higher education are concerned that Phase 1C may not begin until after the spring semester ends, which would mean delaying plans for the fall semester.
In a statement, Pritzker’s spokeswoman says the governor remains hopeful further cooperation with the federal government could result in expediting the Phase 1C rollout.
“Rough estimates are that phase 1B will continue through March, but our hope is that the Biden administration will continue increasing our state’s allotment of doses and more vaccines will be approved and delivered, which can all speed up the timeline,” Pritzker spokeswoman Jordan Abudayyeh said.