Every D.C. resident over 16 has been eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine for three days. Every resident over 65 has been eligible for the vaccine for three months, and still some are not yet vaccinated.
D.C.’s vaccination rate among seniors is lower than the national average. As of April 14, 73.6 percent of D.C. residents over 65 are at least partially vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nationwide, 79.6 percent of residents over 65 are vaccinated.
Seniors who live in more affluent neighborhoods are fully vaccinated at higher rates than those who live in poorer neighborhoods. About 60 percent of seniors in Ward 3—where the median household income is $128,670—are vaccinated, while 40 percent of seniors in Ward 8—where the median household income is $35,245—are vaccinated.
While this data point hasn’t garnered as much attention as the supply-used rate, vaccination among seniors is very critical. This demographic was prioritized after health care workers and nursing home residents because they are at higher risk of serious illness and death from COVID-19. According to the CDC, 8 in 10 COVID-19 deaths reported in the U.S. have been of adults 65 and older.
What’s going on? Mayor Muriel Bowser’s administration is working to get seniors vaccinated. Seniors are still prioritized in DC Health’s pre-registration system, almost guaranteeing them an appointment notification if they were to pre-register. A significant portion of DC Health’s supply is directed to vaccinate.dc.gov. DC Health Director Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt said on Monday that 20 percent of notifications will be sent to seniors.
On Wednesday, Bowser announced that residents over 65 will be able to get vaccinated without an appointment at walk-up clinics across the city, beginning April 19. The appointments at the Bald Eagle Recreation Center on 100 Joliet Street SW are limited to Ward 7 and 8 residents, but residents over 18 are welcomed to walk in without an appointment too. Here are the sites:
According to advocates who spoke with DCist about this problem, longstanding lack of investment is in part to blame. “I think it’s unfair to expect people to want to participate and get to the level of herd immunity when for decades … with this system that we set up [people] felt like they were shut out,” Salim Adofo, a Ward 8 advisory neighborhood commissioner, told DCist. “Nobody cared to get them engaged or involved. And now we’re in this space.” Advocates also said there are a number of seniors who are too busy taking care of their families. Meaning vaccination needs to be as accessible and convenient as possible for those people.
DC Health has worked to make vaccinations more accessible. The health department, in collaboration with other government agencies and health providers, set up mobile clinics in churches and public housing buildings. Members of the Mayor’s Office of Community Affairs have also gone door-knocking to pre-register individuals. Community members have helped in this effort too. Students, for example, have signed up seniors for vaccine appointments.
Some of D.C. government’s equity efforts have hit their limits. The prioritization scheme in the pre-registration system only works if those DC Health prioritizes pre-register. DC Health moved on to the general population earlier than expected last week because the agency says every senior citizen, resident with a qualifying medical condition, and essential worker reporting in person that pre-registered was offered an appointment.
Those who closely track DC Health’s data point out that the agency’s “priority ZIP codes” no longer address disproportionate coverage. Ryan Stahlin, the data scientist responsible for DCcovid.com, points out that DC Health again prioritized 20018 for appointments this week, even though certain neighborhoods within the ZIP code, like Woodridge and Brentwood, are no longer falling behind. In fact, these two neighborhoods have among the highest vaccination rates.
Getting seniors vaccinated is undoubtedly challenging. The national pause in use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is the latest disruption in this mission. There are also dozens, if not a couple hundred, of seniors who want the shot but aren’t vaccinated. Why? Because they are medically homebound. DC Health delayed the homebound initiative because of the J&J vaccine delay.
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