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If you are a regular reader of this newsletter, you may know that D.C. expects to receive 6,800 vaccine doses in its first shipment. That is less than one-tenth of what is needed to vaccinate its entire health care workforce.
Health care workers have been among the groups hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic, and the public needs them to stay healthy to keep the health system functioning. A CDC panel recommended that states and localities prioritize health care workers first. DC Health Director Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt said D.C. would almost certainly follow the CDC’s priority scheme.
Nesbitt warned that D.C. is not receiving enough doses because of the way the federal government is handing out the vaccine. States and localities are getting doses based on the number of people over 18 who live in a jurisdiction. DC Health would like the federal government to base doses on a jurisdiction’s workforce.
Now, D.C. is having to create priority groups within its first priority group called Phase 1A. During Council-executive calls, Nesbitt said the city would start with emergency personnel. Health care workers who are D.C. residents would not be prioritized. “We cannot leave them out in the cold,” she said of Virginia and Maryland residents who work in D.C.
A spokesperson with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services assured City Paper that “Residents from outside the District of Columbia who come into the district for work will be reflected in the allocations of the states in which they reside.” In a press conference on Monday, Nesbitt said that statement is “different and contrary” to what the CDC has said previously.
Maryland expects to receive 155,000 doses while Virginia expects 480,000 doses by the end of the year. City Paper emailed the governors’ offices of these states to see if they plan to vaccinate D.C.’s health workers given that so many live in their states. Both said yes.
“The state’s draft COVID-19 vaccination distribution plan Phase 1 states that the initial allotment of vaccines will be distributed by facility for health care workers,” says Michael Ricci, the communications director of Governor Larry Hogan, via email. “For instance, if a Maryland healthcare worker working in Washington D.C. comes to a Maryland local health department during phase 1, that person will get a vaccine. If a Washington D.C. healthcare [worker] working in Maryland comes to a Maryland local health department, they can receive a vaccine.”
“Virginia will cover DC health care workers who live in Virginia,” says Erin Beard, a public information officer with the Virginia Department of Health, via email. “Virginia is working with the health systems to ensure all health care personnel can access the vaccine.”
Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia is concerned that the region will not receive enough doses to vaccinate its entire health care workforce. He worked with his colleagues on Capitol Hill to include language in the COVID-19 relief bill that will require the federal health department to account for cross-jurisdictional medical workers when it determines vaccine allocations to states through Operation Warp Speed. The text is still being finalized, so it has not been released just yet.
“[D]ue to a technicality in the federal formula that aligns the population of a state to the number of vaccine doses it receives, too many of Virginia’s health care professionals who work in D.C. may miss out on getting priority access to this potentially lifesaving vaccine,” says Warner in an emailed statement to City Paper.
“That’s why I am proud to know that I was able to go back to the drawing board and work with my Republican colleagues to agree on a fix that will ensure that areas with a high rate of cross-jurisdictional workers—like the DMV—are able to get an equitable amount of doses,” he continues. “Now, we’ve got to get this deal across the finish line.”
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