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

The D.C. government expects to vaccinate 70 percent of residents 65 or older by the end of this month. This means DC Health is closer to opening up eligibility to some residents with chronic medical conditions. The rollout has been slow, but the District has been more efficient at administering doses than most other jurisdictions. 

How quickly D.C. moves through the vaccine phases and tiers depends on how many vaccine doses the federal government sends DC Health, and what the demand is among eligible groups of people. Next week’s allotment is up 50 percent from two weeks ago, which is why DC Health anticipates giving 70 percent of its estimated 84,960 seniors their first shot by March 1. The health department also plans to make vaccine appointments available this month to grocery store workers, which would include smaller, independent stores that sell groceries so long as they are licensed.      

“We will not require attestations from people regarding employment or health conditions. Our goal is not to create artificial barriers for individuals to access vaccines through our portal or health care providers,” said DC Health Director Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt during a press conference on Thursday. 

Nesbitt specified who’s eligible under each phase and tier in mid-January. The phases and tiers based on CDC guidance haven’t changed, but the D.C. government has prioritized groups within tiers whenever demand was high and supply was low among eligible people. Nesbitt makes these determinations on an ongoing basis based on the feds’ weekly allocations and data trends. (Some have taken issue with the prioritization scheme.) The government is moving through the phases and tiers on two tracks, one focuses on preventing death and serious illness and the other on keeping society running. “The majority of the vaccine will be focused on the morbidity and mortality track because that is really directed to saving lives,” said Dr. Ankoor Shah, the vaccine program lead in DC Health. Shah says the agency is also prioritizing workers reporting in-person. 

Two months into vaccinations, and the District is currently in Phase 1b Tier 2, but will continue to vaccinate people in the prior phases and tiers whenever it moves on to the next one. Here’s who is eligible under each phase and tier: 

Phase 1a: To prevent death and serious illness, long term care residents. To keep society running, health care workers, along with fire and emergency medical personnel.   

Phase 1b Tier 1: To prevent death and serious illness, D.C. residents age 65 years and older, along with residents of congregate settings (intermediate care facilities, community residential facilities, group homes, homeless shelters). To keep society running, correctional officers, congregate settings staff, and non-health care staff who support vaccination clinics.   

Phase 1b Tier 2: To prevent death and serious illness, individuals in correctional facilities and detention centers. To keep society running, law enforcement, K-12 staff, child care facilities staff, and grocery store workers. 

Phase 1b Tier 3: To keep society running, courts and legal services staff; health, human services, and social services outreach programs like violence interruption programs; mass transit workers; manufacturing workers; food packing and distribution workers; and US Postal Service workers. 

Phase 1c Tier 1: To prevent death and serious illness, residents between the ages of 16 and 64 with chronic medical conditions that increase the likelihood of health complications from COVID-19 as defined by their provider. To keep society running, food service staff (including restaurant workers); essential employees in local government agencies and public utilities; workers of commercial and residential property maintenance and environmental services. 

Phase 1c Tier 2: To keep society running, ride-share and non-public transportation workers; workers of logistics, delivery, and courier services; and essential workers in media and mass communications. 

Phase 1c and Tier 3: To keep society running, essential employees of higher education; construction workers; essential employees in information technology and federal government; and employees of commercial and residential property management.  

Phase 2: All D.C. residents 16 and older. 

Whether eligibility opens up to residents with chronic medical conditions soon, perhaps in March, also depends on whether the federal government agrees to directly supply vaccines to specific workers within Phase 1b Tier 3. This would include employees in D.C. courts and USPS workers, for example. Mayor Muriel Bowser, along with Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, wrote the Biden administration on Wednesday, requesting that the feds directly supply and distribute doses to essential federal workforces, including WMATA, in the D.C. region. This would be over 30,000 workers. “Based on how they respond, I’ll be making decisions about how we’ll move past Phase 1b tier 2,” said Nesbitt on Thursday. 

Whenever D.C. moves onto preventing death and serious illness under Phase 1c Tier 1, expect DC Health to prioritize specific ages and medical conditions. The Post published a list of medical conditions DC Health is considering. There are an estimated 163,000 residents with high risk conditions.

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

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