Credit: Chicago Department of Public Health

CHICAGO — Illinois will start vaccinating people 65 and older in its next phase, breaking from federal guidance.

The federal Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, whose members have created recommendations for how states and major cities should prioritize vaccinating people for coronavirus, has said people 75 and older and certain frontline workers should be prioritized in the next round, Phase 1B.

But Gov. JB Pritzker announced Wednesday that Illinois will lower the age barrier and prioritize vaccines for people 65 and older.

Chicago, which is in charge of its own vaccination program separate from the rest of Illinois, will also prioritize people 65 and older during Phase 1B, though it will give the highest priority to people who are older or who have underlying conditions within that group, Dr. Allison Arwady, head of the Chicago Department of Public Health, said Friday.

Regardless, officials have said it will be weeks or months before Phase 1A — when health care workers and long-term care facility workers and residents are vaccinated — is over and Phase 1B can begin.

The state lowered the vaccine age for people in Phase 1B as a matter of equity, Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said, noting Black and Latino Illinoisans are more likely to die and die younger from coronavirus infection.

Currently, the average age of COVID-19 death is 81 for white residents, 72 for Black residents and 68 for Latino residents, according to data provided by the state.

“With limited amounts of vaccine available at this time, it is important to prioritize individuals who are at greatest risk of exposure to COVID-19 and those at greatest risk of severe illness or death,” Ezike said in a statement. “Generally, Latinx and Black populations have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 with data showing related deaths at younger ages. We are hopeful that by lowering the eligibility age to 65 years we can help reduce this disparity.”

The state estimates there are 1.9 million Illinoisans who are 65 or older.

Phase 1B will also include “frontline essential workers” according to federal guidance. This includes people who are higher risk for COVID-19 exposure due to their jobs or living situations.

The state estimates there are 1.3 million people who fall into that category in Illinois.

Nationally, the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention estimates about 30 million Americans fall into this category, including first responders; education workers, including teachers, support staff and childcare workers; manufacturing, distribution and agriculture workers, including grocery store workers; United States Postal Service workers; public transit employees; corrections workers and incarcerated people, and others.

Pritzker has called on the federal government to send more vaccine doses to Illinois.

State and city officials said they’re waiting on the federal government to increase vaccine shipments. The city has already distributed 95 percent of the vaccine it has on hand, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Tuesday.

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