As the District launched its new system to pre-register for a COVID-19 vaccine this week, it also announced changes to help ensure more doses go to people who actually live there.
"The essential worker burden for vaccinations in the District is disproportionately high [compared] to any other jurisdiction," said Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt, head of DC Health.
Going forward, the District will prioritize 90% of its appointments for eligible residents only. The new system will allow them to better identify those people.
In the preregistration portal, D.C. said essential workers should bring verification like a work ID badge, letter from employer or paystub.
"One of the ways that we have to ensure that we are not vaccinating residents from other jurisdictions who don't actually have an essential job in the District of Columbia is to ask for some type of proof for that," Nesbitt said.
The News4 I-Team has been tracking the data and found despite older and medically vulnerable residents being eligible for several weeks, 39.9% of the doses administered in the District have still gone to people who don't live there.
By comparison, only 2.5% of Virginia's vaccine doses are listed as having gone to out-of-state residents. An additional 7% were missing residency information.
The vaccinated population in D.C. may be overestimated in this map because some non-residents who work in D.C. are included in the totals.
Maryland groups its out-of-state shots together with all unknown addresses; at most it's 4.3%.
"If they want to limit it to their own residents, that's their choice. That may also mean that there are people working there from other jurisdictions who may be transmitting the virus- and so they are taking a risk," D.C. Council member Mary Cheh told the I-Team.
"What I'm questioning is, could we at least inquire about whether they could send us some vaccines for all the vaccines that we're using," Cheh added.
Cheh emphasized that she fully supports the decision to continue vaccinating essential workers who commute into the District from Virginia and Maryland.
"75% of the people who work here don't live here," Cheh said. "It's in our interest, yes, absolutely, to vaccinate them because they may be spreading the virus among our own residents."
The most recent data shows the District has now given at least 77,746 doses to non-residents.
Virginia and Maryland each gave the District about 8,000 doses in December. Cheh said she's asked Nesbitt about asking for more.
"She effectively said no," recounted Cheh.
A DC Health spokesperson did not respond to questions about Cheh's request or the new guidelines.
During a COVID-19 briefing last week, Nesbitt said, "Geography matters to us in the District of Columbia."
But the District has primarily focused on geography within its own borders, making sure to prioritize appointments for people in zip codes with the most COVID-19 cases.
"Equity will be a priority for us throughout this process," Nesbitt said. "Seniors are likely going to be highly favored in our system for getting access to appointments because their risk for severe disease, illness, hospitalization, death is higher."
With states in different stages of who's eligible and some restricting shots to residents only, Cheh understands why District residents might be losing patience, especially if they've tried to register in Virginia's portal or had trouble scoring an appointment for a mass vaccination site in Maryland.
"It's certainly frustrating, and there's certainly an element of unfairness," said Cheh.
In a statement to the I-Team, Virginia's Department of Health said its registration system asks for home and work address, so it covers anyone who lives or works in Virginia.
When asked about the equity of the distribution, a spokesperson wrote, "Virginia, Maryland and D.C. have explicitly discussed and agreed to vaccinate each other's residents who are essential workers in another jurisdiction. Just as D.C. is vaccinating Virginia residents who work in D.C., Virginia is vaccinating D.C. residents who work in Virginia."
"Our goal is always to get as many needles in arms as possible, while following federal guidelines," wrote a Maryland Department of Health spokesperson, adding, "We prefer that Marylanders are prioritized for getting a vaccine allocated to us by the federal government; however, Maryland will not turn away a person from out of state who needs a vaccine."
When asked whether they'd consider sharing additional doses with the District, neither Maryland nor Virginia answered the question.
Individuals who are currently eligible for vaccination based on their occupations should first check with their employers to see if vaccination arrangements have already been made. If not, they should contact the local health department in the localities where they work.
Individuals who are currently eligible for vaccination because they are age 65 or older, or because they have high-risk medical conditions identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, should contact the local health department in the localities where they live.