Physicians group asks Pritzker to waive local background check requirements for doctors, nurses who want to volunteer at mass vaccination sites

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A Chicago physicians group has asked the governor’s office to waive requirements that mandate fingerprinting and background checks for licensed health care workers before they can volunteer at mass vaccination sites, according to a letter sent to the office on Friday.

In the letter addressed to Gov. J.B. Pritzker, the Chicago Medical Society said the requirements, set by local governments, are unnecessary for health care workers who are already licensed and in good standing in Illinois, and instead act as barriers for the workers who are trying to lend a hand in the vaccination effort.

“I’m writing to express our concern about the requirement that licensed physicians and nurses need to be fingerprinted and have their backgrounds checked before administering COVID-19 vaccines at mass vaccination centers,” read the letter, signed by the medical society’s president, Dr. Tariq Butt, on behalf of about 17,000 area physicians.

The governor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment from the Tribune. The Chicago Medical Society said it has not received a response from the governor, but noted the letter was only sent on Friday.

Dr. Vishnu Chundi, chair of the Chicago Medical Society’s COVID-19 task force, said the group has been building a volunteer corps of physicians to help with the state’s mass vaccination efforts, especially as some jurisdictions don’t have enough providers to staff the clinics.

But Chundi said some volunteers who have tried to volunteer at state sites have been asked by local health departments to go through a cumbersome background check process that is time consuming for doctors and nurses who are already stretched thin.

“They have active licenses in good standing,” Chundi said.

The medical society hopes the governor will step in and waive any such requirements and supersede local rules when the health care worker has a valid state license. The doctors want a uniform policy that will apply across the state.

Chundi said he assumes the background check rules are in place in some jurisdictions as an extra measure to protect against liability. During a pandemic, though, he said the rules may actually hinder progress while new COVID-19 variants threaten a more rapid spread of the disease.

“We would like to help speed the process and encourage participation from as many licensed physicians, nurses and qualified health care providers as possible in our rush to meet President (Joe) Biden’s goal to vaccinate 150 million Americans in his first 100 days in office,” the letter said.