D.C. Resident Raymond Pla, one of the first to get vaccinated
Anesthesiologist Raymond Pla, one of the first D.C. healthcare workers to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Credit: Amanda Michelle Gomez

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Newly released government data shows that D.C. has only administered 42.4 percent of the total COVID-19 vaccines it has received. But the data, which D.C. will publish on Mondays on coronavirus.dc.gov, doesn’t tell us the full story about how vaccinations have been going since the District started administering shots to the first priority group, frontline health care workers, the week of Dec. 14. 

Only 58 percent of health care providers are reporting vaccination data to the health department. In a press conference Monday, DC Health Director Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt said she expects the data to become more accurate once health care providers learn how to use the immunization system. “We are really coaching them through this process,” she said. 

Nesbitt also suggested the District will report a larger number of doses administered once long-term care facilities ramp up their vaccination processes this week. To date, two facilities have started to vaccinate their residents and staff, and about 100 people have received their first of two shots. The first group of vaccinated health care workers will also receive their second doses this week. 

The data also says only 35.9 percent of available vaccination appointments are booked. Health care workers who aren’t employed at a hospital are being instructed to visit vaccinate.dc.gov to schedule an appointment to get vaccinated at a pharmacy or federally qualified health center. “To fully appreciate and understand why 64 percent of those appointments are not scheduled, we think it may be a function of people really not knowing these opportunities are out there,” said Nesbitt. She’s written to every licensed health professional to inform them of this website, but suspects the holidays may have slowed vaccinations. She also says it is too soon to fault vaccine hesitancy.  

All vaccines expire, including Pfizer’s and Moderna’s coronavirus vaccines. “We have given all of our providers very clear instructions that once a vial of vaccine has been removed from the refrigerator and it’s been thawed and you have a number of hours to use it, that any person who is available to be vaccinated should be vaccinated,” said Nesbitt. (This order led one lucky law student to be vaccinated at a Giant pharmacy.)

Nesbitt declined to specify if any providers have reported vaccine wastage as she is still reviewing the data. She did say that from what she can tell so far, she has not noticed significant reporting of wastage. Mary’s Center, a vaccination provider, tells City Paper that so far they haven’t reported any wastage. When individuals have missed their appointments, Mary’s Center phoned their own health care workers who live within walking distance of their facility to get vaccinated.            

Nesbitt has repeatedly said one group does not need to be completely vaccinated before DC Health moves on to the next group. During the press conference, Bowser also announced target dates for vaccinating priority groups after health care workers and long-term care facilities: 

  • Week of January 11: D.C. residents who are 65 years and older. 
  • Week of January 25: Specific essential workers, including those employed in the public safety sector, grocery stores, Pre-K to 12 schools and childcare settings. 
  • Week of February 1: D.C. residents with chronic medical conditions (DC Health will announce these conditions closer to the date), and all other essential workers including restaurant employees.    

“Remember these are target dates. We would be prepared to turn them on sooner or later depending on what DC Health needs to get done,” said Bowser. 

“We will only continue with the non-D.C. residents for workers,” added Nesbitt. Meaning essential workers who live in Maryland and Virginia but are employed in the District can sign up for a vaccination appointment once vaccinate.dc.gov opens up to the next few groups later this month.   

Bowser’s chief of staff, John Falcicchio, clarified that DC Health is considering a number of things when deciding to begin vaccinating new groups, including how many doses the agency receives from the federal government.  

Questions about vaccinations? Let me know by replying to this newsletter or emailing me directly. I’d also love to hear directly from health care workers, especially if you work at a vaccination site.

—Amanda Michelle Gomez (tips? agomez@washingtoncitypaper.com

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