Mayor Bowser gets vaccinated for COVID-19. Credit: Photo by Amanda Michelle Gomez

With her eyes closed, Mayor Muriel Bowser received her first dose of the coronavirus vaccine today at Kaiser Permanente Center for Total Health on 2nd Street NE. Moments earlier, during a press briefing, she admitted to feeling a little anxious.

“I hate needles,” Bowser said. “I gotta tell you. You talk about anxiety producing, getting vaccinated on camera is causing me some anxiety.”

Earlier in the briefing, Bowser fielded questions about the anxiety that the District’s senior residents endure when trying to schedule a vaccine appointment. With a limited allotment of vaccines from the federal government distributed each week, slots fill up in minutes. The online portal can be an obstacle for some older residents.

Bowser and other government workers became eligible for the vaccine under D.C.’s distribution scheme that began allocating doses this week for “continuity of District government.” D.C. teachers and school staff working in-person and D.C. police officers are also eligible to receive the vaccine starting this week.

“This vaccine is the key to ending the pandemic and getting our lives back,” Bowser said.

MPD Chief Robert Contee received the vaccine last Friday, and afterward announced that “a number” of his officers tested positive following the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. MPD did not immediately respond to an email asking for the precise number of MPD cases linked to the riot.

Members of D.C.’s fire and EMS departments, including Acting Fire Chief John Donnelly and DC Health Director Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt, were among the first to receive the vaccine in the District. And the oldest members of the D.C. Council—Chairman Phil Mendelson, Anita Bonds (At-Large), and Vince Gray (Ward 7)—also received their first doses earlier this month. Each of them are over 65 and appeared in videos put out by the mayor’s office labeling each of them a “#SeniorSocialInfluencer.”

Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh is participating in Moderna’s vaccine trial, which tracks the effects for two years. Cheh tells LL that she fills out a form about every 10 days in addition to periodic follow-up appointments for a blood draw and “an excruciating COVID test.”

Bowser has taken some heat from various groups throughout the vaccine rollout. Councilmembers objected to the uneven geographic distribution of vaccines to seniors and asked whether DC Health could allocate doses based on zip code to ensure the people most at-risk of infection and death were prioritized. Nesbitt at first resisted prioritizing vaccine doses by zip code but quickly reversed course.

The most recent point of contention is coming from DC Health’s roll out of vaccine doses for teachers. In phase 1B, tier 2, “all staff working in K-12 educational facilities” and “all staff working in child care facilities” can get the vaccine, according to DC Health’s initial plan. Grocery store clerks are also supposed to be included.

But Bowser announced last week that teachers will be prioritized over child care workers, who have been working in-person for months. Councilmembers Janeese Lewis George (Ward 4), Robert White (At-Large), Elissa Silverman (At-Large), and Brianne Nadeau (Ward 1) wrote to Bowser asking her to include child care workers in this week’s allotment.

During the press briefing today, from behind a mask that says “DC NEEDS MORE VACCINES,” Nesbitt defended the decision to prioritize teachers over child care workers. She said D.C. is not receiving enough doses to fully vaccinate every group listed in a particular phase, or even a particular tier within a phase.

“We’re in a position where I still have to make a decision based on risk, based on logistics and based on other factors that we have to break up tiers within a phase,” Nesbitt said. “So while we are in phase 1B, tier 2, all of the groups within that phase do not become eligible at the same time.”

Nesbitt described the amount of vaccine doses D.C. is receiving from the federal government as “dismal.”

This week, D.C. is receiving 9,475 doses, Bowser said. The District has administered more than 51,000 doses so far.