With more than a little fanfare and lots of hope, the Bowser administration took possession of the first wave of vaccine to block the novel coronavirus less than three days after the vaccine had received formal federal approval for human use.
Now, District officials, along with the other local, state and federal officials have to figure out how, when and where to stage inoculations. And, most critically, who’s first?
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, along with D.C. Director of Health Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt, explained the process at a news conference on Dec. 10. The mayor said she realizes District residents want this pandemic to end.
“I know that we are all ready for this pandemic to be over,” she said. “And there is good news: a vaccine is on the way. D.C. health has been preparing for the eventual arrival of a vaccine since the beginning of the pandemic. Since March, our community has worked hard and sacrificed to save lives and protect our most vulnerable residents.”
Bowser said, “Now we are ready to lead an equitable distribution of a safe and effective vaccine” and “the next few weeks and months will be critical.”
“A successful vaccination implementation will finally bring an end to this crisis,” the mayor said. “It will save lives. And when Washingtonians are vaccinated, we can finally come back together.”
The George Washington University Hospital vaccinated a few of its health care workers on Dec. 14, the first vaccination event in the District. George Washington Hospital received the vaccines on Dec. 14 along with Howard University. Four other sites — MedStar Washington Hospital Center, MedStar Georgetown, Kaiser Permanente and Children’s Hospital — have been designated by the District as vaccine sites mainly because of their capacity to store the vaccine at -94 degrees F conditions. Children’s had been on schedule to receive its vaccines Dec. 15 but a spokeswoman said a delay had taken place and could not determine when vaccinations will start there.
MedStar Washington and MedStart Georgetown are scheduled for vaccines Dec. 15 and Kaiser will receive its doses Dec. 16. On Dec. 17, the employees of the D.C. Fire and Emergency Management Services will receive the District government’s first vaccinations in partnership with Kaiser.
A spokesman with the University of Maryland Medical System said the first COVID-19 shipment from Pfizer arrived Monday morning at the state’s flagship academic hospital in downtown Baltimore.
The vaccine will be distributed to other UMMS hospitals in the state that include Prince George’s Hospital Center in Cheverly and Laurel Medical Center.
On Dec. 11, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) officially granted emergency authorization for the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine to be available for use. However, District officials had been preparing for the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine candidate to be first in line for inoculations for weeks.
Nesbitt said the District started acquiring supplies for the vaccine in June including 184,000 needles and syringes, one million alcohol prep pads and one million bandages, among other supplies. She also said medical and health care personnel have been prepared for the arrival of the vaccine and extensive training on how to administer the drug will be offered.
She said the initial allotment will be about 6,825 doses, far short of the expected 8,000 she expected.
“This all depends on the manufacturer and how many they have to distribute at the time,” Bowser said. “We have about 85,000 health care workers who work in the District and a lot of them live in Maryland and Virginia. Still, we need more doses to vaccinate our health care workers.”
Nesbitt said the six sites with the initial allotment will partner with health care providers in the District. For example, she pointed out Children’s National will partner with the United Medical Center in Ward 8 and Kaiser will work with the District government to inoculate D.C. Fire and Emergency Services and other frontline workers.
Using the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as a guide, Nesbitt said the District has four phases of the vaccination program. Health care workers and first responders will be vaccinated during Phase 1A. Phase 1B, which includes about 310,722 residents, will inoculate essential workers and at-risk residents such as the elderly in assisted living facilities and those who have severe cases of coronavirus triggers such as high blood pressure and diabetes. Phase 2 will immunize residents who have milder cases of the coronavirus triggers and some members of the general public. Phase 3 will vaccinate the rest of the public. Nesbitt said some phases may overlay each other, meaning a population doesn’t need to be fully vaccinated for the next group to begin.
Nesbitt said while Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna will be available this month, she knows there are other vaccine candidates being considered. She acknowledged AstraZeneca in the United Kingdom and Novavax in Gaithersburg, Md., are working on coronavirus vaccines also and are close to approaching the FDA for approval. However, Nesbitt cautioned residents about being picky about which vaccine to take.
“People should take the vaccine when it is available to them,” she said. “Do not wait for a specific vaccine. People should be vaccinated as early as possible.”