Pritzker: Vaccine mandate will ‘work itself out’ despite concerns about testing costs

Pritzker: Vaccine mandate will ‘work itself out’ despite concerns about testing costs

SPRINGFIELD, IL — Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate is now in effect for college students, educators and most health care workers.

Those who don’t follow the mandate could be kept from work.

A state lawmaker critical of the mandate said it penalizes unvaccinated people with weekly testing that could come with an extra cost.

Pritzker’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for educators, college students and most health care workers went into effect Sunday.

His office Monday announced an agreement with a labor union representing workers in congregate settings like the Illinois Department of Corrections, that employees must have their first COVID-19 vaccine by Oct. 14, and the second shot by Nov. 18.

“Therefore, if employees do not receive the vaccine or an exemption by the dates identified, progressive disciplinary measures will be implemented, which may ultimately lead to discharge,” Pritzker’s office said in a statement. “The agreement includes a process whereby employees can seek an exemption based on medical contraindications or sincerely-held religious beliefs.”

Similar exemptions for K-12 staff were also announced by the Illinois State Board of Education.

Negotiations continue with other labor unions representing health care workers run by other state agencies, Pritzker’s office said.

The governor was asked if he’s worried the mandate could create a labor shortage elsewhere in the health care industry.

“We don’t want to cause any shortages, but we do want to keep everybody safe,” Pritzker said. “We do have these alternatives available.”

The alternative to the mandated vaccine for most in health care is weekly COVID-19 tests, but that could come with an extra cost to the employer or the employee. Pritzker recognized some of the issues are still unresolved.

“There are health care workers, no doubt, that are working with their health care providers,” Pritzker said. “It will work itself out. We certainly are attempting to be as helpful as we can to those institutions that are having trouble putting their testing together.”

For K-12 schools not participating in the U of I’s covidSHIELD program, staff taking the required test must pay. But it’s at no cost to districts taking part in SHIELD. The same for college staff and students.

State Rep. Andrew Chesney, R-Freeport, said concerns about cost are legitimate as some people, even those with medical or religious exemptions, can’t afford $35 to $100 a week to test.

“They already have the pile of cash from the federal government to pay for as many tests, as long as they want,” Chesney said of the hundreds of millions of federal tax dollars set aside for COVID-19 testing.

Chesney filed House Bill 4106 back in July to prohibit vaccine requirements at universities, but the bill has not advanced to a substantive committee.

“What the governor is doing is saying ‘we’re going to start really, really ratcheting it up on the unvaccinated to make it not only uncomfortable, but also a financial penalty,” Chesney said.

The Illinois Department of Public Health says the mandate does not require employers pay for their employees who are not vaccinated, but encourages employers to make it as easy as possible.

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