Will County Health Department says it won’t expand vaccine eligibility this week

Pritzker announced expansion for younger residents with underlying conditions to begin Thursday

The Will County Health Department said it will not expand eligibility for COVID-19 vaccinations under Phase 1B later this week.

Gov. JB Pritzker announced the expansion of Phase 1B to include residents age 16 through 64 with certain underlying health conditions which would make them more vulnerable to sickness and death due to COVID-19. The expansion of eligibility is scheduled to begin Thursday.

When he made the announcement, Pritzker cited the increasing federal supply the state expected to receive this month. Under the expansion, people with conditions like cancer, chronic kidney disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes, heart conditions, obesity, pregnancy, pulmonary disease and sickle cell disease would be eligible to get vaccinated.

But the Will County Health Department will not go along with Pritzker’s decision, spokesman Steve Brandy said Tuesday.

Brandy said the “whole key” to the decision is whether there is enough vaccine locally, which public health officials have repeatedly said is insufficient to cover as many people already eligible who want it in a timely fashion.

“We all know that’s kind of rough right now,” Brandy said about the slow pace of the rollout.

As of Tuesday, more than 95,000 vaccines have been administered in Will County, according to the latest data from the Illinois Department of Public Health. A little over 25,000 people have been fully vaccinated, which represents about 3.6% of Will County’s overall population.

Before the expansion announced by the governor, under Phase 1B, persons age 65 and older and frontline essential workers in specific industries like first responders, education and manufacturing workers are eligible for the vaccine.

Medical workers and residents and workers in long-term care facilities are eligible under Phase 1A which began late last year.

Will County is not be the only large county which decided not to open up eligibility later this week.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said shortly after Pritzker’s announcement that they also did not have enough vaccine supply to expand eligibility under Phase 1B.

“We recognize the Governor must make tough choices and consider needs across this diverse state, but given the limited supply of vaccine, we must also make the tough choices as the leaders of the most populous city and county in the state,” they said in a joint statement earlier this month.

Alex Ortiz

Alex Ortiz is a reporter for The Herald-News in Joliet. Originally from Romeoville, Ill., he joined The Herald-News in 2017 and mostly covers Will County government, politics, education and more. He earned his bachelor's degree at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a master's degree from Northwestern University.