Suburban lawmakers say they’ll ‘wait their turn’ before receiving COVID-19 vaccine

‘There is no chance in hell I will jump the line as a 52-year-old very healthy individual,’ McHenry Republican says

Rep. Kelly Burke, D-Evergreen Park, answers questions about vote-by-mail legislation during the spring legislative session Thursday. The Illinois House of Representatives is conducting its spring session at the Bank of Springfield Center in Springfield instead of in its chamber in the Illinois Capitol building a few blocks away because it affords more space to practice social distancing amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Republican and Democratic lawmakers in the suburbs haven’t agreed on much about Illinois’ handling of COVID-19.

But after Gov. JB Pritzker added lawmakers to Phase 1b eligibility for vaccination, some concurred on one thing: They don’t want to move ahead in line.

“There is no chance in hell I will jump the line as a 52-year-old, very healthy individual,” said state Sen. Craig Wilcox, R-McHenry.

State Sen. Tom Cullerton, D-Villa Park, said, “I am planning on waiting until it’s my turn to go.”

Pritzker said he also plans to wait, but his spokeswoman, Jordan Abudayyeh, said Wednesday that lawmakers’ move to Phase 1b came at the request of members of the General Assembly and was granted in the interest of dealing with the state’s “urgent and vital business.”

Phase 1b, with vaccinations now underway, is for people age 65 and older and essential workers. Lawmakers met for several days in January, but both chambers have arranged reduced schedules conducted remotely in February.

Cullerton said that although he appreciates that vaccinations could speed up a safe return to work for lawmakers, he still would like to see police, firefighters, teachers and other essential workers get vaccinated before him.

Lawmakers prepare an extended session of the Illinois House of Representatives to begin at the Bank of Springfield Center, Sarturday May 23, 2020, in Springfield, Ill. The Illinois House of Representatives is holding session at the Bank of Springfield Center instead of the Illinois State Capitol because it allows for safe social distancing amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Justin L. Fowler/The State Journal-Register via AP, Pool)

State Sen. Ann Gillespie, D-Arlington Heights, said she would not be using her status as a legislator to get the vaccine in Phase 1b and instead will wait until it is available to the public.

State Rep. Stephanie Kifowit, D-Oswego, said she is leaning toward waiting but plans to make a decision after consulting her doctor – something she said every lawmaker should do. Kifowit said vaccinating lawmakers is important to state government’s ability to function.

All agreed that lawmakers who fall into groups considered more vulnerable to COVID-19 should get vaccinated.

How to make a safe return to Springfield during the pandemic has been a point of hot debate between Republicans and Democrats.

“[I am] very disappointed the governor changed his original tune,” Wilcox said of Pritzker’s decision to add lawmakers to Phase 1b.

But Cullerton said in response to Republican criticism of Pritzker: “Politicizing [COVID-19] has been something that’s been going on since the day it showed up in the United States, so the expectation that politicizing the vaccines would go away ... I would be amazed.”

Kifowit said it is ironic that Republicans who voted against remote voting in the Legislature also would be critical of Pritzker’s adding lawmakers to Phase 1b of vaccine distribution.

“They must not believe in the continuance of government like I do,” Kifowit said. “I think that we need to get to work. We need to do everything in our power to make sure we can do the work of the people.”