A vial of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine
A vial of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. Photo by Darrow Montgomery

Mayor Muriel Bowser’s administration is transitioning away from its pre-registration system for vaccination. Getting the COVID-19 vaccine is starting to look like getting the flu shot. D.C. residents over 18 will no longer need appointments to get the vaccine. They can also get it at their pharmacy.  

After a roughly four-month run, DC Health is retiring “vaccinate.dc.gov.” The last day D.C. residents and workers can pre-register on the portal is April 28. In place of a pre-registration system, Bowser and her team are standing up 11 vaccine sites beginning May 1. These sites have the capacity to serve hundreds of people each day. Any adult can just walk up to any one of the sites to get the jab. 

Appointments are not required, and neither is ID or health insurance. The COVID-19 vaccine is free. But people who have health insurance are being asked to use it, so providers can get reimbursed. Information on days and times will be available on vaccinefinder.org. (To see the government’s presentation of this information in Spanish, click HERE.)

These sites are for residents over 18 years old. Residents who are 16 and 17 should register for an appointment with Children’s National. (No vaccine is yet authorized for anyone younger than 16.) And these sites are for first doses only. DC Health is asking residents to get their second shot where they got their first one because not every site is providing both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. It’s important that people get the same vaccine for both their first and second shots. 

DC Health is making accommodations for residents who traveled a long way to get their first shot. However, residents who got their first shot in Maryland or Virginia should get their second one there too. Call the COVID-19 Call Center at 1 (855) 363-0333 for more details. 

Residents still interested in reserving an appointment can book one with a select local health care provider or pharmacy. More than two dozen CVS pharmacies in D.C., for example, are offering appointments this week. (Residents can schedule second shot appointments at CVS pharmacies too.) Check vaccinefinder.org to locate a vaccine provider near you. The Twitter bot @dcvaccines is also identifying opportunities when they become available. 

The District is entering a new phase in vaccinations, as is the nation. Since residents started getting the shot in mid-December, supply has outweighed demand. City officials had been pleading for more doses from the federal government for months. “We may have reached equilibrium,” said DC Health Director Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt during a Monday press conference.   

Nesbitt said every resident who was eager and willing to get vaccinated has likely received at least their first shot. “It’s now up to us to make sure everyone else knows that it’s easy, that they are eligible,” said Mayor Bowser. “This is a people’s movement. It’s not just a government’s movement,” added Nesbitt. 

Nesbitt called on residents to encourage one another to get vaccinated. She said it’s time for people to have “real talk” with their friends. “Say ‘Hey I’m only hanging out with vaccinated people,’” Nesbitt suggested. On May 1, Mayor Bowser is hosting a “Day of Action” where volunteers will canvas neighborhoods and help residents get vaccinated. (Here’s how to volunteer.)

Demand has petered off in recent weeks. The decrease is not associated with the pause in use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, Nesbitt assured. (Although, at least one nationwide poll suggests 3 in 4 unvaccinated Americans are now unwilling to get the J&J vaccine.) Sign-ups through the pre-registration system started to drop off ahead of the pause. She said it’s more that everyone in D.C. who really wanted the vaccine has gotten an appointment. Now, it’s time to educate those who don’t know how easy the vaccine is to access, as compared to earlier on in the roll out, or still may be on the fence.    

Nesbitt has not advised local health providers to continue the use of the J&J vaccine just yet, although some like CVS pharmacies are already scheduling appointments for the one-dose vaccine. While the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended lifting the pause on Friday, federal authorities have not released clinical or implementation guidelines. Once DC Health receives this information, Nesbitt will recommend lifting D.C.’s own pause.  

“The FDA and CDC have confidence that this vaccine is safe and effective in preventing COVID-19,” federal authorities said of the J&J vaccine in a press release on April 23. “The FDA has determined that the available data show that the vaccine’s known and potential benefits outweigh its known and potential risks in individuals 18 years of age and older.” 

So far, over 142,700 D.C. residents are fully vaccinated and more than 237,300 residents are at least partially vaccinated. (Although, this number does not capture every resident who got vaccinated outside the D.C. region or through federal entities.) And adherence to the second shot is more than 80 percent. There are about 500,000 adults in D.C., said Bowser, so a lot more people need to get vaccinated.     

“The way we get open is to crush the virus and get people vaccinated,” said the mayor. 

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

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