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SPRINGFIELD — Illinois will make COVID-19 vaccines available to all seniors 65 years and older when the next phase of vaccinations begins, Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced Wednesday.

That age limit is 10 years lower than federal guidelines advise for prioritizing vaccinations in the upcoming phase 1B, which will begin after vaccinations in the first phase, 1A, are substantially completed.

The governor also announced that beginning Jan. 15, any region of the state meeting certain criteria can move out of Tier 3 COVID-19 mitigation restrictions in effect since Nov. 20.

Those restrictions include a ban on indoor service at bars and restaurants, but that ban would remain in effect for a region moving back only one notch to Tier 2.

As of Wednesday, East Central Illinois Region 6 was one requirement short of moving out of Tier 3.

A region must show declining COVID-19 hospitalizations in seven out of the last 10 days, and Region 6 has had seven straight days of COVID-19 patient increases.

The criteria Region 6 did meet as of Wednesday:

  • A test positivity rate of less than 12 percent for three consecutive days: Region 6 met that for 11 straight days.
  • Greater than 20 percent available intensive care unit and hospital bed availability: Region 6 met both requirements for 11 straight days.

How lowering the age of vaccine eligibility from 75 to 65 in the next phase of vaccinations plays out in various counties will depend on how much vaccine they receive.

“We are still limited by the amount of vaccine we receive,” said Julie Pryde, the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District Administrator.

Without enough vaccine to administer to all those becoming eligible in 1B, Pryde said, Champaign County would prioritize seniors 75 and older and first responders.

Vaccinations for 1A have included health care personnel and long-term care residents and staff throughout the state.

Phase 1B will include seniors 65 and older and frontline essential workers who are at higher risk of COVID-19 exposure because of their work duties or because they are unable to work from home.

Pritzker said Illinois has 3.2 million people who fall into the 1B category, among them grocery store workers, first responders, incarcerated people, teachers, education support staff, child care workers, postal employees and those who work in manufacturing, distribution, agriculture, public transit and correctional centers.

“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,” said Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr Ngozi Ezike.

Latino and Black populations have been disproportionately affected by COVID, she said. The average age for COVID-19 deaths has been 81 for White patients, 72 for Black patients and 68 for Latino patients, according to the state.

“We are hoping that by lowering the eligibility age to 65 years we can help reduce this disparity,” Ezike said.

As Illinois enters 1B, Pritzker said the state will use every resource at its disposal to get as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible.

That will include mobilizing the Illinois National Guard to assist in the development of mass vaccination sites, he said.

As of Wednesday, 207,106 vaccinations had been administered in the state, including some second doses given to the first people vaccinated, the governor said.

Jan. 15 was selected as the date eligible regions could move out of Tier 3 restrictions because it’s a full incubation period after New Year’s day, Pritzker said.

He expressed gratitude to all those who refrained from big gatherings at Thanksgiving, and said post-Christmas and post-New Year’s weekend case numbers are being watched.

Pritzker’s announcement was made on a day Illinois announced 7,569 new cases and 139 additional deaths.

As of Wednesday, Illinois was approaching 1 million COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began. Of those, 17,096 people have died.

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