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Advancing the Human & Civil Rights of People with Disabilities in Illinois



August 9, 2021

CONTACT: John Jamros, 312-895-7356,

CHICAGO – Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Wednesday issued a vaccine mandate for staff in state run mental health and developmental centers, prisons, juvenile justice facilities and veterans’ homes, as rates of the contagious Delta variant continue to skyrocket.

Equip for Equality applauds and thanks the Governor for his decision to protect youth and adults with disabilities and other vulnerable populations from the devastating effects of the Delta variant by mandating vaccines for state workers.

“Governor Pritzker’s order to mandate vaccines for workers in congregate settings, including developmental disability centers and mental health centers, is going to save lives. Most people with disabilities have health conditions that put them at greater risk than the general population and living in large group settings compounds that risk,” said Zena Naiditch, President & CEO of Equip for Equality, a non-profit group designated as the federally mandated state Protection & Advocacy agency for Illinois.

The Illinois Department of Corrections (IDOC) partnered with advocacy groups, including Equip for Equality, to help educate prisoners on the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine. Consequently, around 70% of incarcerated individuals—many who have disabilities—are now vaccinated. However, less than half of prison employees have been vaccinated. The discrepancy in vaccination rates among residents and staff is similar in developmental centers.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently stated that the Delta variant causes more severe disease than any other variant and that it now accounts for 93% of infections. In state-run congregate settings, many people face medical conditions and living situations that put them at an even higher risk of developing severe illness from COVID. For example, almost 97% of youth in juvenile justice facilities have at least one mental health diagnosis and nearly 60% are on psychotropic medication.

Due to the close living conditions in state-run facilities and a reliance on care from unvaccinated staff, these communities are poised to be overrun with the virus. Already over 10,000 people in Illinois jails and prisons have contracted COVID. That’s more than 1/3 of the incarcerated population. This is a direct result of unvaccinated staff bringing the virus into facilities where prisoners are unable to socially distance.

“A lot of people in these facilities are at an even higher risk of severe COVID complications or death because of health issues related to disabilities,” said Naiditch. “It’s problematic to allow unvaccinated staff who may not even be wearing masks in their private lives to provide care to vulnerable populations. The vaccine mandate won’t just protect people living in these facilities, it will also help prevent the spread of COVID to staff and their own families. Mandating vaccines is absolutely the right thing to do. Equip for Equality stands with the Governor on his vaccine mandate and hopes the labor unions work with the Governor to make this life-saving mandate a reality.”


Last updated: August 10, 2021

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