Grocery store workers, health and human services and social services outreach workers, and food packaging and manufacturing workers are now eligible for the COVID-19 vaccinations in D.C.
DC Health—the agency that receives all of the city’s doses from the federal government—says workers can book appointments through the portal, vaccinate.dc.gov, or by calling (855) 363-0333. On Thursday, Feb. 18, appointments become available at 6 p.m., but only to workers who live in priority zip codes in Wards 5, 7, and 8, communities disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus. On Friday, Feb. 19 at 6 p.m., newly eligible D.C. workers, regardless of where they live, can book an appointment online or by phone. The District government is only allowing individuals who are 18 and older to book an appointment at this time.
Will workers always book at these times?
No. Next Thursday and Friday, workers will be able to book starting at 9 a.m. Then the following Thursday and Friday, workers will be able to book again starting at 6 p.m. The District government is alternating times biweekly to accommodate workers’ schedules. People are likely to forget the schedule, but know that the government is working to implement a new pre-registration process in March.
Define grocer? And social services?
Grocery stores obviously include the supermarkets like Giant and Whole Foods, but also include smaller establishments like bodegas, convenience stores, delis, and neighborhood markets. During a conference call on Feb. 10, DC Health Director Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt told the Council that the definition for health and human services, along with social services, is as “broad” as you think it is. It includes violence interrupters, for example. If you are unsure if you are eligible, reach out to your employer. “Your telework people who are not in person, we would ask that you not send them to vaccination at this time, but folks who are out in the field, doing outreach,” advised Nesbitt to employers.
How do I prove my place of employment?
DC Health is essentially using the honor system. “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 Nesbitt during a Thursday press conference.
Residents 65 and older will also book vaccination appointments on Thursdays and Fridays via vaccinate.dc.gov or the call center. This week, 4,900 appointments will be available to seniors and newly eligible workers. But seniors can also book appointments directly via vaccination providers, like Howard University Hospital. Seniors have been eligible to book since mid-January and, as of Feb. 14, 36.8 percent of seniors have received their first shot. (There are racial and economic disparities.) Last Thursday was the first time appointments via the portal and the call center were not booked within minutes. That’s because D.C. set aside appointments for just the call center. This is a new policy, so if all the appointments are taken on the website, try the call center. Demand continues to outpace supply, however that could change by the end of March.
Opening up eligibility to grocery store workers means D.C. has moved out of Phase 1b Tier 2. (Forget D.C.’s phases and tiers? Click HERE.) It also means D.C. is finally vaccinating a group of people who’ve been working in-person since Mayor Muriel Bowser first declared a public health emergency over the coronavirus on March 11. The union representing food and commercial workers including many at local Safeways and Giants, UFCW Local 400, says there have been 146 confirmed cases among their members employed at D.C. stores and one death.
“These heroes have been putting themselves and their families on the line to keep food on our tables throughout this ordeal,” says the union’s communications director Jonathan Williams. “We support every effort to mitigate the risk they face every day. We believe the vaccine should be prioritized for communities most affected by the pandemic, and focusing on certain zip codes seems to be a way to make that happen.”
Opening up eligibility to health and human services and social services outreach workers, along with food packaging and manufacturing workers, means D.C. is now in Phase 1b Tier 3. The District government is likely prioritizing non-federal workers in this tier because Bowser, along with Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, asked the Biden administration to vaccinate mass transit, postal, and court workers.
D.C. Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency Director Christopher Rodriguez told the Council on Wednesday that the D.C. region’s request to the federal government “almost certainly will not be approved,” however nothing is official or in writing yet. If the Biden administration rejects the D.C. region’s request, that complicates the District’s efforts to further move through the phases and tiers. However, D.C. could open up eligibility to residents with chronic medical conditions without opening up eligibility to every worker group in Phase 1b Tier 3.
“There’s no reason why you can’t move asynchronously between your societal function and your morbidity mortality groups,” DC Health’s vaccine lead, Dr. Ankoor Shah, told the Council on Wednesday. “This is all dependent on doses received [and] uptake we’re seeing within different groups.”
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