Credit: Photo illustration by Julia Terbrock

New DC Health data likely shows racial and economic disparities in COVID-19 vaccinations. Residents 65 and older that live in Whiter and wealthier wards are getting vaccinated at a higher rate in the first week of a chaotic rollout.  

DC Health published various data points related to vaccines on Monday. Ever since the federal government first delivered doses to the District in mid-December, vaccination providers have administered 41,053 doses. Less than 1 percent of District residents are fully vaccinated, or 3,285 residents. (Remember, DC Health is vaccinating its health care workforce, and 75 percent of those workers are not D.C. residents.)   

The District can only vaccinate as many people as it has doses. The federal government had been reserving doses for a second shot until recently. The District had been receiving around 4,000 doses per week until last week, when the District received 8,300. However this week, DC Health expects 6,550 additional doses. 

The scarcity of vaccines has led to a frenzy over reserving appointments. About one-third of the first couple thousand appointments for seniors have so far been reserved by residents of Ward 3, a ward that is overwhelming White and where the median household income is $128,670. Of the first 6,700 appointments made available to seniors last Monday, Ward 3 residents booked 2,465. By comparison, only 94 appointments were reserved by residents of Ward 8, a majority Black ward where the median household income is $35,245. For comparison, Ward 3 has seen the fewest deaths related to COVID-19, at 43, while Ward 8 has seen the most, at 165. Ward 3 does have about twice as many residents over 65 as Ward 8.   

DC Health is still not publishing vaccine data based on race. However, a Kaiser Health News analysis of 16 states that have released data by race shows White people have been vaccinated at a rate two to three times higher than Black people. Vaccine hesitancy and outreach could be to blame. 

During a conference call on Wednesday, a few councilmembers voiced concerns about seniors leaving their neighborhoods to get vaccinated at wards disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. DC Health Director Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt sounded very skeptical of reserving appointments for select wards. By Friday night, DC Health announced they’d be making 4,309 vaccination appointments only available to residents of wards who booked the fewest number of appointments earlier in the week, namely wards 1, 4, 5, 7, and 8. Then on Monday, an additional 1,436 appointments would be made available to residents 65 and older, regardless of their place of residency.      

Appointments over the holiday weekend booked up fast. The 1,436 appointments were booked in under 25 minutes, according to DC Health. The rollout was plagued with technical difficulties and botched communication. Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh expressed her frustration over Twitter about DC Health failing to adequately explain its rationale for reserving vaccine appointments to residents of wards 1, 4, 5, 7, and 8. 

“Our health and technology teams are working closely with partners around the clock to make improvements to the appointment scheduling process and conducting internal and external testing to streamline the experience with each round of appointments,” says DC Health over Twitter.    

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

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