State of Illinois Expands Vaccine Eligibility to People with Disabilities


February 25, 2021 | by Amber Smock

State of Illinois Expands Vaccine Eligibility to People with Disabilities

Access Living friends and allies:

Today, the State of Illinois is officially expanding Phase 1B of its vaccine rollout plan to include people with disabilities and people with specific medical conditions who are at high risk. This is called Phase 1B Plus. However, actual availability of vaccine appointments will vary widely across counties.

We applaud the Pritzker administration for recognizing the deep concerns of Illinoisans with disabilities, and allowing those of us who have not been vaccinated into the expanded Phase 1B rather than 1C. It is the right thing to do, especially for multiply marginalized communities.

The list of qualifying high-risk medical conditions (which is subject to change) includes:

  • Cancer
  • Chronic Kidney Disease
  • COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease)
  • Diabetes
  • Heart Condition
  • Immunocompromised State from a Solid Organ Transplant
  • Obesity
  • Pregnancy
  • Pulmonary Disease
  • Sickle Cell Disease

The expansion applies to those 16 and older who weren’t otherwise covered in previous eligibility categories, the state said, adding that it plans to work with local health departments and other providers as eligibility increases.

Which Locations Are Expanding Phase 1B and Which Aren’t?

Several local health departments, hospital systems and Chicago-area counties have said they will not be expanding their Phase 1B just yet, saying vaccine supply remains too limited. **Please note: At present, Chicago IS NOT expanding their 1B vaccine eligibility**

Why Naming Disability Eligibility Matters:

Disabled people were the first to go into lockdown in their own homes because underlying health conditions put us at high risk of both getting COVID-19 and experiencing its most deadly symptoms. Now, a year later, we’re still on lockdown. We have witnessed the devastation Covid-19 has wrought in congregate settings. We have also witnessed countless gatherings in public places without acknowledging in-person social interaction as a deep privilege. The Crutches and Spice writer Imani Barbarin issued a blistering indictment of this situation in her blog post “I was Unprepared for 2020.”

Why Vaccine Shortages Make Disability Eligibility Complicated:

Our national reality of vaccine availability makes actually getting a vaccine quite difficult for many who are eligible. The new expansion makes an additional 3.5 million Illinoisans eligible for vaccination; thousands of those who were already eligible are still struggling for a vaccine appointment because the amount of vaccine is simply not available yet. In the coming months, the supply will expand, but at the present time there is simply not enough vaccine to go around.

While the State has made their prioritization clear, at the local level outside Chicago, vaccine access is still spotty. Local public health departments will be key in alerting area residents about when vaccine appointments will actually be available. See this news story from the Tribune on this issue for the collar counties around Cook County.

The City of Chicago, separate from the State of Illinois, receives its own vaccine shipments, and there’s not enough vaccine to meet current demand. Here is the City’s site on getting vaccinated. It is strongly recommended that people get vaccinated within the county in which they reside (see Illinois appointment link here).

Where We Are Now:

The State’s recognition of the need for disability prioritization is a critical validation of a community that includes many people who are multiply marginalized. We would like to see public health departments publicly and consistently acknowledge the reality of the need for vaccination for people with disabilities who live in the community. We urge advocates to share your stories with local public health departments, because disability equity, overlaid with race and class equity, has got to be a care part of public health decision making. We urge people to continue to follow the direction of local health departments on signing up for vaccination, but we also need to hear our public health officials tell us that we matter.

We thank Governor Pritzker and Dr. Ngozi Ezike, Director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, for doing just that. Let’s keep supporting each other towards access and education on ending this pandemic for all.

Please share with interested community members. Thank you for your advocacy.