As the region scrambles to vaccinate as many people as possible, the District, Virginia and Maryland have each agreed to vaccinate people who work in essential roles, no matter where they live.
But an analysis by the News4 I-Team finds that, as a result, the District is vaccinating a far larger share of non-residents than its counterparts in Virginia and Maryland — a challenge complicated by the fact that its vaccine allotment is largely based on per capita population and not workforce population.
Of the 51,421 doses of vaccine administered in the District as of Jan. 23, data shows 47 percent went to workers who don't live in D.C. That’s far higher than in Virginia, where at least 85 percent of the commonwealth’s administered doses have gone to Virginians, and in Maryland, where at least 93 percent of doses have gone to its residents, according to an I-Team review of vaccine data mapped by in-state recipients.
D.C. leaders have said vaccinating the workforce is critical to slowing the spread of the virus and protecting people inside the District. In addition to prioritized groups including health care workers and long-term care employees, the District is also now vaccinating seniors and those with high-risk medical conditions.
"We really believe that sticking to workers who are District residents only will not have the right kind of outcome for us from a societal impact perspective,” said Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt, who runs D.C.’s Department of Health, in a press conference earlier this month.
Maryland and Virginia have each given the District 8,000 doses to help vaccinate its workers coming from their respective states, but D.C. quickly ran through that stockpile. And with the ongoing vaccine shortage, it’s unclear whether or when the states will be in position to provide more.
The Health Department declined the I-Team’s request for an interview and instead pointed the I-Team to ongoing press conferences held by Mayor Muriel Bowser. There, District leaders have made no secret of the need for more vaccines for its entire population, with officials now wearing masks that state: “DC Needs More Vaccine”.
Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, who previously ran Maryland and D.C.’s public health departments, stopped short of saying D.C. should receive additional doses from its regional counterparts.
"At least initially, we don't need to be quibbling about, you know, 100 doses here or 100 doses there,” he told the I-Team. “But I do think there needs to be coordination recognizing that we may all have to help contribute to the District of Columbia.”
Benjamin added it shouldn't necessarily be left to the states to settle up, adding, "Quite frankly, the federal government could reconcile that without us having to get into big debates between jurisdictions."
President Joe Biden’s administration pledged to increase D.C.’s vaccine supply by 15 percent for the next three weeks, but Bowser has made clear that’s not enough for the District.
"While that is welcome news, we know, too, that we will continue to have less vaccine than we need to meet the demand for D.C. residents," Bowser said.
Dr. Laurie Forlano, the deputy commissioner for population health with the Virginia Department of Health, said it’s too soon to know whether Virginia will help with additional doses or if it will even be necessary.
"It's not a competition. We're definitely all working toward the same goal together,” she said. "So it serves everyone to make sure that each jurisdiction has what it needs.”
Speaking to the I-Team earlier this month, Forlano said supply and distribution could change in a matter of days or weeks.
"Supply is limited right now, but hopefully it will not be that way forever,” she said.
Spokespeople from Maryland and Virginia issued a joint statement to the I-Team on behalf of the states and the District, writing the jurisdictions are “committed to vaccinating eligible residents and out-of-state workers as equitably and efficiently as possible, based on limited vaccine supply from the federal government.”
The statement advised workers who are eligible for vaccination based on the priority groups to first check with their employers and then with their local health departments. It continued that people eligible for vaccination because of their age or high-risk medical condition should start with their local health department.
Dr. Tommy Sokoly, a dentist who lives in Maryland but practices in Northwest D.C., and his staff are among the thousands who have been able to get vaccinated through the District program.
“It just gives us a little bit of peace of mind knowing that even on a daily basis, we're greatly reducing the risk of potentially hurting our patients or potentially transmitting COVID,” he said.
He says he feels lucky to have had the option, especially after his counterparts in Maryland complained dentists were excluded from the first round of vaccinations there, prompting the state to clarify in early January that they were indeed eligible.
“A lot of them immediately asked me how come I was able to get the vaccine so quickly,” Sokoly said.
Sokoly praised D.C.’s approach and noted he did have to provide his home address when he was vaccinated so that the information would be shared with Maryland. He said he’s hopeful the region will continue to share vaccines to protect the most vulnerable, if necessary.
“I'm a firm believer in everybody kind of working together as much as possible for this,” he said.
Reported by Jodie Fleischer, produced by Katie Leslie, and shot and edited by Jeff Piper and Steve Jones.