This should be the last week D.C. residents and workers will have to make a mad dash for a COVID-19 vaccine appointment through the government portal, vaccinate.dc.gov, and the call center. Next week, Mayor Muriel Bowser’s administration will launch a pre-registration system, where people will receive an email, call, or text message letting them know they’ll be able to make an appointment. 

How will the new pre-registration system work?

People will be encouraged to pre-register regardless of what vaccine phase and tier the District is in. These people would provide their information to DC Health through the pre-registration website or call center. Bowser’s team expects to release more information about the system at a press conference scheduled for Thursday. DC Health Director Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt has previously said her department will consider what vaccine phase and tier the District is in, along with a person’s zip code and date of registration when sending those who pre-register notifications about when and how to sign up for a vaccine appointment. (Ward 1 Councilmember Brianne Nadeau asked to see a demo of the pre-registration system before the official rollout, which the executive agreed to during a council call Wednesday afternoon.)

How will this week work?

The scramble for appointments continues, at least this week. DC Health is releasing 5,750 appointments on Thursday, March 4, at 9 a.m. for eligible populations living in priority zip codes in Wards 5, 7, and 8—neighborhoods that are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 but generally have lower rates of vaccinations. Another 5,750 appointments will be released on Friday for eligible populations regardless of zip code. This week, the eligible populations are residents 65 and older and residents 18 and older with a qualifying medical condition. (Here is the list of eligible conditions. Self-attestation is the only verification required when booking.) Workers who were eligible to book through the portal and call center in previous weeks, like grocery store employees, aren’t eligible this week. A spokesperson for the mayor says these workers can try to book a vaccine appointment through a health care provider. 

A few councilmembers members hoped D.C. would rethink its priority scheme because tens of thousands of people became eligible last week to book through the portal and call center, creating a host of technical problems. A few suggested prioritizing residents with qualifying medical conditions based on age. However, Nesbitt has opposed this strategy because some conditions impact life expectancy.   

Are last week’s technical issues resolved?

DC Health and the Office of the Chief Technology Officer have been working with Microsoft to make sure vaccinate.dc.gov doesn’t crash as it did last week. Those working on the portal increased server availability. The portal has been tested multiple times, according to the mayor’s spokesperson. Users who tried but failed to book last week will notice a couple of system changes: CAPTCHA has been removed from the questionnaire and a “waiting room” has been added. The waiting room will allow 3,000 users to access the questionnaire at a time. Officials are discouraging residents from using multiple devices to try and book because the system counts each device as a person who is using the portal. This could create unnecessary delays. 

Is D.C. getting the Johnson & Johnson vaccine?

Yes. About 5,500 doses are going to the portal and call center, and 500 are going to federally qualified health centers and hospitals that vaccinate their own patient population. Users of vaccinate.dc.gov will notice two-to-three new vaccine sites this week. These sites are “high-capacity sites” where Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine, which requires one dose as opposed to Pfizer and Moderna’s two, will be administered. Users will be able to see what sites are administering what doses when they book for the first time this week, now that a vaccine that requires just one shot is on the market.   

“DC Health is emphasizing that all available vaccines have been proven effective at preventing serious illness, hospitalization, and death from COVID-19,” the agency said in a statement. “Residents are highly encouraged to take the first vaccine available to them.” 

Remember, not all the D.C.’s doses go to vaccinate.dc.gov or the call center. Plenty go to hospitals and health centers who book appointments and vaccinate their own patient populations, as listed on the government website. And not every health center who D.C. partners with is able to vaccinate their patients. For example, One Medical is a vaccine provider but isn’t supposed to book appointments for their own patients; they should vaccinate only those who book through the government portal and call center, along those who book through DC Public Schools or the Office of the State Superintendent of Education. Hospitals and health centers who are able to book appointments for their own patients are expected to reach out to the newly eligible population this week, prioritizing the most vulnerable patients.