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Aldermen Push For Librarians To Be Vaccinated Soon, But City’s Top Doc Says That’d Slow Rollout For Seniors

"We're gonna get the librarians vaccinated. I promise. But it'll be in line with a lot of other frontline essential workers," Dr. Allison Arwady said.

Chicago libraries have been open since June.
Twitter/Chicago Public Library
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CHICAGO — The city’s top health official said librarians shouldn’t be given higher priority for coronavirus vaccinations, despite aldermen pushing hard for that change during a Monday meeting.

Frontline workers are eligible to be vaccinated against coronavirus during 1B — but for city workers, that’s limited to teachers and members of the police, fire and transit departments. Librarians and some aldermen have pushed for library workers to be included, saying they’ve done essential work and have had to work in person since June.

Dr. Allison Arwady, head of the Chicago Department of Public Health, told aldermen that officials chose which city workers to prioritize in part based on what departments have had the highest COVID-19 case rates — and the libraries “have lower rates than people really in almost any other setting.”

“People who work at Chicago Public Libraries have half the rates of what we’ve seen across the city,” she told aldermen during Monday’s meeting of the City Council’s Committee on Health and Human Relations.

Currently, librarians and other city workers are set to be included in Phase 1C of the city’s vaccination campaign. The city has tentatively said that could begin in late March.

Because librarians aren’t seeing as high coronavirus rates, allowing them to be vaccinated during 1B would make other city workers question why an exception wasn’t made to prioritize them, too, Arwady said. She noted most health department workers have not been vaccinated, and “very few” city workers are eligible for the shots.

Arwady’s also concerned prioritizing librarians would mean there are fewer doses for people 65 and older — who are most at risk of severe cases and death from COVID-19 — since vaccine supply is so low.

“How do you decide who else you switch for, and everybody you bring in? It makes the little bit of vaccine you have, have to stretch further,” she said. At another point, she said broadening Phase 1B to include librarians “just means fewer people over 65 get vaccinated faster.”

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Alds. Maria Hadden (48th), Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th) and Andre Vasquez (40th) were among the aldermen who called on Arwady to prioritize librarians.

Hadden said the city should track librarians in community libraries separate from the rest of the department, which has staff who do not work in public settings.

“I think about alderpeople being included in group 1B, but I still have the ability to work remotely, while our library staff we have deemed essential workers and we’ve had them in person,” Hadden said. 

Ald. Michelle Harris (8th), Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s new floor leader, also pushed for librarians to be given greater priority — but joked with Arwady, telling the health commissioner she doesn’t envy her role in having to juggle all the people who want to be vaccinated.

“We’re gonna get the librarians vaccinated. I promise. But it’ll be in line with a lot of other frontline essential workers,” Arwady told Harris.

Still, at the end of the hearing, Arwady told the aldermen she’ll “take a look” at their concerns about libraries and see if there’s a way to incorporate some of them into the city’s Protect Chicago Plus program.

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