The District of Columbia received only enough COVID-19 vaccines for fewer than one in 10 healthcare workers during the first distribution, drawing criticism from local medical authorities.
“It’s a little disappointing,” said E. W. Emanuel, MD, the District of Columbia Medical Society president and an obstetrician with Mid-Atlantic Permanente Medical Group.
Emanuel is particularly upset that officials did not account for the transience of the regional workforce with the first disbursement, “especially when considering that the federal government is here,” he said. “We found that disappointing to be quite honest.”
The first doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine were disseminated to Washington, D.C., by the federal government based on population. While fewer than 700,000 people live in the District, a large proportion of the metro area’s population of 6 million work there — including healthcare workers.
The District received 6,825 doses, according to its Department of Health and a recent NPR report. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) called that disbursement “woefully insufficient.”
The District has about 85,000 healthcare workers, according to NPR, but three-quarters of them do not live in the city. “Those who work here do not [all] live here,” Emanuel said.
Virginia and Maryland both sent some of their doses to D.C.: Virginia sent 8,775 doses and Maryland sent 8,000 doses according to the Department of Health.
Even with that aid, most healthcare workers in the District who are eligible for the vaccine now are still waiting for it.
The first distribution phase is targeting healthcare workers, especially those in high-risk settings and long-term care, Emanuel noted.
“It’s surprising the federal government only allocated close to 7,000” doses to the District, he said, given that it’s an urban area with many medical facilities packed into a small diamond-shaped space.
The District expects to receive 12,600 Moderna doses and 4,875 Pfizer-BioNTech doses from Operation Warp Speed this week, according to the Department of Health.
Emanuel and expects the federal government is more thoughtfully planning how to distribute them in the next round.
But he only knows those doses are promised “soon,” and many physicians in the District remain anxious.
The question is “when and how” the new doses will be disseminated, Emanuel said, echoing what he has heard from physicians who are calling the medical society daily. “Not knowing, I think, is the most frustrating.”
The vaccination rate among healthcare workers should increase as the Moderna vaccine becomes more readily available, Emanuel said.
Many healthcare workers at hospitals received the first batch of doses, Emanuel said, but those at practices not tied to hospitals did not.
On the bright side, Emanuel noted the initial doses were distributed without delay, and he has not heard any concerns about fairness and equity.
The D.C. Nurses Association did not return queries for comment by press time.