Washington, D.C., is preparing to vaccinate its population against COVID-19, starting the process by giving the shots to thousands of health care workers and first responders.
The rollout will happen in phases in accordance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance: Phase 1A for health care workers and first responders, then Phase 1B for essential workers and at-risk residents. During Phase 2, the vaccine will first become available to the general public.
It's "impossible" to lay out an exact timeline, but the process will start slowly.
D.C. expects to receive its first 6,825 doses after Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine is cleared by the Food and Drug Administration and distributed, D.C. Health Director LaQuandra Nesbitt and Mayor Muriel Bowser said Thursday at a press conference.
That number is lower than the 8,000 doses D.C. officials had previously said to expect. In addition, remember that everyone needs two doses each.
Bowser and her team have been critical of the federal government's process for allocating how many doses each jurisdiction receives, complaining that D.C. is getting shortchanged.
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The first batch will only cover first doses for a fraction of the city's 85,000 frontline health care workers, including those who work at public testing sites, as well as first responders. Among that group, people with direct exposure to coronavirus patients will be the very first to get vaccinated, Nesbitt said.
“Vaccinating health care workers first ensures we have a healthy workforce to treat and care for sick people,” Nesbitt said. “It’s not just necessarily the doctors and nurses, but it also includes the techs, environmental services staff, et cetera.”
Anyone who becomes eligible can expect to receive a message telling them how to schedule an appointment, possibly through their employer or a commercial pharmacy.
Nesbitt said there are many unknowns, so it's not clear who will get vaccinated and when. D.C.’s leaders urged people to be patient and follow public safety advice while the process gets underway.
“We have to remain vigilant until we get a full deployment of the vaccine,” Bowser said.
Once a vaccine is granted authorization, the CDC must finalize educational materials and issue recommendations. Also, vaccinators must be fully trained, Nesbitt said.
Leaders in Maryland have said they expect shipments as early as next week, although D.C. leaders declined to be specific of timing.
The first shipment of vaccines is set to arrive in seven boxes with 975 doses each. The boxes will be distributed to six D.C. hospitals that are equipped with the cold storage that the shots need, officials say:
- MedStar Washington Hospital Center: 2 boxes
- Howard University Hospital: 1 box
- The George Washington University Hospital: 1 box
- Children’s National Hospital: 1 box
- Kaiser Permanente: 1 box
- MedStar Georgetown University Hospital: 1 box
The District expects to be able to order more vaccines on a weekly or every-other-week schedule.
D.C. officials hope that in the future, the city can order larger quantities of the vaccine and accelerate the program. As more vaccines get emergency use authorization, that should also increase availability for the District.
D.C.’s first batch of shots will cover one dose for less than 10% of health care workers and first responders who work here, officials say. For full protection, recipients will need a second dose within a few weeks.
“We have not instructed health care providers to hold that second dose,” Nesbitt said. “We are not expecting to only vaccinate 3,400 individuals out of this set of doses.”
About 75% of D.C.’s medical workers commute from Maryland or Virginia, but the federal government allotted vaccines based on population. Officials pressed the federal government for more shots, but Nesbitt said they were denied.
How fast the city can vaccinate the first group will determine how long the wait is for subsequent priority groups.
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said she will get the coronavirus vaccine, but not until it’s time for her group to get one.
The news comes as D.C.'s coronavirus data points to a worsening health crisis.
D.C.'s daily case rate has soared to more than 40 per 100,000 residents, far above the phase two reopening goal of 15.
The test-rate is also in the red zone: The average COVID-19 test results come in 3.3 days, but 2-3 days is the goal in phase two.