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Inmate vaccine debate sparks controversy in Illinois

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Inmate Work Crew
Inmate Work Crew

ROCKFORD (WREX) — When Illinois moves to Phase 1B of its next wave of vaccinations, one group that will be on the list is inmates.

"When I read the release from the governor, I didn't think I read it correctly," said Rep. Andrew Chesney (R-89th District).

Chesney said it's not that he's against inmates getting the vaccine. What he's against is inmates getting the vaccine before people who have underlying health conditions that put them at a higher risk of developing complications and dying from COVID-19.

"My personal opinion is if you have underlying conditions and you want to take the vaccine, you should have the availability," said Chesney.

Governor JB Pritzker's office said it's following CDC guidelines for vaccine distribution. In a statement to 13 WREX, it said,

"(T)his isn’t the Governor’s personal decision. The state is following the guidance from ACIP and the CDC on prioritization.

"The federal government’s guidance is clear that because of the high risk of infection, incarcerated individuals should be vaccinated in Phase 1B, along with personnel. Indeed, the federal Bureau of Prisons, under the Trump administration, began vaccinating federal inmates back in December. "

But the federal government's guidance isn't really that clear, because it keeps changing.

Less than a week ago, the CDC announced a change to its recommendations on who should be in Phase 1B. It used to say people 75 and older fit into that group, now it says 65 and older. It also said people with underlying health conditions were in Phase 1C, now it says they should be in Phase 1B.

The CDC also isn't clear about where inmates fall. While it stresses that correctional workers and inmates should be vaccinated at the same time, it only lists correctional workers under Phase 1B, not inmates.

13 WREX has reached out to the CDC for clarification about what vaccination phase inmates should be in. We expect a response on Thursday.

Kristin Crowley

Evening News Anchor
Kristin Crowley anchors the 5, 6 and 10 p.m. news. She is also a reporter for 13 Investigates. She brings more than a decade of experience to the newsroom. Her work at WREX has earned her multiple awards including a regional Edward R. Murrow for Investigative Journalism and three regional Emmys.

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