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Central Illinois Republican Legislators Still Plan To Wait Their Turn For COVID Vaccine

Chapin Rose
State Sen. Chapin Rose (R-Champaign), said Governor J.B. Pritzker's decision to move legislators into phase 1B of COVID vaccinations comes at the expense of "the people who actually need it."

Bloomington-Normal and Peoria Republicans are blasting Gov. JB Pritzker's decision to include state lawmakers in phase 1B of Illinois' COVID vaccination efforts.

Pritzker announced the decision Wednesday in response to the requests of several legislators, he said.

But multiple state senators representing central Illinois say they plan to keep waiting to get the vaccine.

"The vaccine is wonderful," said Win Stoller, R-Peoria. "I'll be excited to get it when it's my turn, but I'm not going to take advantage of this because I just would feel bad that I might be taking somebody's spot that has a health risk, or they live with people that are at great risk."

Stoller said Senate rules make the governor's concession unnecessary.

"To some extent, we can meet virtually," said Stoller. "I don't think it's really that necessary that we have to be pushed to the front of the line."

State Sen. Sally Turner, R-Beason, said she'll also wait her turn, though she said legislators 65 and older should get the vaccine.

"My brother-in-law who has an underlying health condition still doesn't have his yet," said Turner. "Those with underlying health conditions, no matter their age, still need to go before me."

State Rep. Ryan Spain, R-Peoria, while echoing the concerns of his colleagues in the Senate, said it "would be worth it to go forward" with getting the vaccine if it meant the legislature could return to its usual business.

"If there was a commitment made by the speaker, that we could return to a regular legislative session and be in Springfield every week doing our jobs ... doing the things that legislators should be doing to provide an appropriate check and balance on the executive branch, then I think that would be worth it to go forward," said Spain. "But if legislators are just moving themselves up in the line, and we don't intend to reconvene in Springfield anytime soon, then this is not a good idea."

State Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Champaign, took aim at Pritzker for the overall rollout of the vaccine, particularly in nursing homes and long-term care facilities.

"He's announced that healthy prisoners are getting vaccine," said Rose. "He's announced the legislators are getting vaccine. OK. Who's not getting a vaccine? The people who actually need it."

Pritzker said the program responsible for getting the vaccine to nursing homes and long-term care facilities has completed its first set of visits. According to data from the Illinois Department of Public Health, those facilities have been allocated 496,100 doses, with 178,848 doses administered so far.

But Rose said it was "outrageous" that only a third of the vaccines allocated to long-term care facilities in the state has been distributed. 

"What's happening right now is insane," said Rose. "It's like a 'Hunger Games' for old people out there right now trying to find a vaccine."

Meanwhile, State Sen. Dave Koehler, D-Peoria, said he and his wife, who already were in phase 1B prior to the governor's change on Wednesday, have received the first dose of the two-dose vaccine.

"I think that whatever the governor does, (the Republicans are) gonna have a criticism," said Koehler. "The legislature does need to meet."

He said the General Assembly has numerous concerns it needs to deal with, including the state budget.

"I think this helps to ease the feelings that we can meet and somehow be safe," Koehler said. "I think the real issue is that we have to have more vaccine, it has to be distributed quicker, in a more ethical way."

According to CDC vaccine distribution data, Illinois currently ranks 45th among the 50 states plus the District of Columbia in terms of doses administered per 100,000 people.

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Christine Hatfield, a graduate student in University of Illinois Springfield's Public Affairs Reporting program, is WGLT and WCBU's PAR intern for the first half of 2021.
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