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Pritzker: No COVID Vaccine Mandate For Workers In State Facilities

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Governor JB Pritzker said while a COVID vaccine will be coming to Illinois residents soon, there will be no mandate for people having to get one if they work in a state run facility.

He and Doctor Ngozi Ezike, head of the IDPH, said while there's a lot still in flux, but, there are no mandates in place right now. But there may be restrictions for those workers.

"And so as we have right now, in the hospitals, health care workers are encouraged to get the flu shot. There are people who don't get it. And there are other protocols that are in place to deal with people who will not or cannot take the flu shot, I can imagine maybe it'll be something similar to that."

She said the protocols could mean job reassignments.

"Most likely, everybody will be strongly encouraged, for obvious reasons, as to why they should want to participate in this important effort. For people who are not vaccinated, there will be other policies and procedures that will continue to ensure the safety of the people that they are there to care for," Ezike said. "Maybe there's reassignment. Maybe they have to continue wearing masks, all those kinds of things. But those have been mapped out."

Pritzker said he wanted to reassure state residents that the proposed COVID-19 vaccines are safe and people should get it once it becomes widely available to the general public.

"There have been decades of research on coronavirus is broadly, like the spur of research following the 2003 SARS COVID one epidemic. Researchers at the National Institutes of Health, our national publicly funded medical research agency. And across the nation, have made major strides in evaluating spike proteins in other kinds of coronaviruses over the years, laying the groundwork for these new COVID-19 vaccines and allowing the current vaccine developers to move as fast as they have."

 

He repeated his plan that a vaccine will be distributed after sufficient evidence of its effectiveness and safety.

"Illinois will only distribute a vaccine that is deemed safe. And we are one of many states that have established additional review panels, including Indiana, California, New York, West Virginia and Michigan. Our Illinois team is already pouring over the analysis released by the FDA on the Pfizer bio intech vaccine this morning," said the governor. "We all want to make sure this vaccine is safe, and additional sets of eyes on the evidence can only be helpful. As much as I can stand up here and talk about the incredible collaboration and effort that went into ensuring as safe a process as possible."

Joining the governor was Bonnie Blue, the Illinois woman who is one of the first participants in the Moderna vaccine trial at the University of Illinois. Blue, who has asthma, urged people to get the COVID vaccine.

"When the vaccines become available. Please take it. Do your research, find out more about it, don't just take my word for it, but look at me here, a person that has been on life support so many times. For me to take part in this trial was a huge risk. A risk that my family and friends were not happy that I was facing. But I'm here, I am fine," Blue said.

Pritzker said while it's not confirmed, the state could get 400,000 doses of the Moderna COVID vaccine. But he cautioned that the number could change, because the state could get fewer or more.

"I'll believe it when I see it, when they arrive," Pritzker said.

Doctor Ezike said there will be a coordinated effort to make sure everyone is offered a vaccine and that people can start with their own physician. But other opportunities will be available.

"Mass vaccination drives will be held in churches. And people will go to the federally qualified health centers. They will go to their local health departments," Ezike said. "We're even working at the state level to have some drive-through vaccination efforts. So there'll be lots of opportunities. Those will continue to ramp up, especially as it becomes widely available to all the public."

 

On Tuesday, the state marked another grim milestone, surpassing 800,000 cases of COVID-19 so far, as public health officials reported 7,910 new confirmed and probable cases of the virus, as well as 145 additional deaths.

Since the start of the pandemic, the Illinois Department of Public Health has now reported a total of 804,174 coronavirus cases, including 13,487 deaths.

The state's seven-day average case positivity rate now stands at 9.9%, the lowest it's been since Nov. 6, when it was 9.6%, which was also the last time it was below 10%. The state's case positivity rate climbed as high as 13.2% during the second wave of the pandemic, which started in early October.

Ezike, head of the Illinois Department of Public Health, said while a vaccine is on the horizon, it doesn't mean people can abandon wearing masks and other protective measures.

"Our path towards ending this pandemic is layered. There's never been a single one-off solution. Even that scene alone is not going to do it. We still are going to need to wear our masks. We still are going to need to limit our gatherings and watch our distance, but absolutely this vaccine is a key," Ezike said. "I can't wait to make this available to as many people as possible. Without using these tried and true public health measures, without vaccination, this pandemic will extend longer than it needs to."

She said a lot of work needs to be done to inform communities of color about the importance of the vaccine, despite the federal government's cruel treatment of Blacks in the past.

"There's very valid reasons why that skepticism exists. Public health is not always done right by communities of color. Everyone points to the Tuskegee syphilis experiment. But that's just one example. There are many examples where government has done wrong by bBack people specifically. And so there's a lot of work that's going to be done," Ezike said.

The head of the IDPH said she will work with notable Black organizations on the state and national level to maker sure there's no misinformation regarding the COVID vaccine and what's in it.

"I'll be working with the Chicago Urban League, I'll be working with the Urban League. I'll be working with churches across across the state. We'll be working with many different groups that have inroads into this community so that we can give the appropriate information,"Ezike said. "We can answer questions that we can make sure that we can dispel the things that are clear myths and work on the real issues that are that are still barriers."

Gov. JB Pritzker on Monday said he was "hopeful" that improving trends in new cases and positivity rates in recent weeks would continue, but noted it's still too soon to tell if there will be a post-Thanksgiving surge, and said Illinois still has a long way to go before it's out of what the governor called the "danger zone."

 

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