Under the proposal to the Federal Emergency Management Agency and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Washington region would no longer dip into its overtaxed vaccine supplies to inoculate some 30,000 workers, including those at the U.S. Postal Service, certain essential workers in the federal court system and others employed by the Metro transit system.
The federal government already uses its own vaccine supplies for some employees, such as members of Congress and the military, local officials said.
FEMA officials did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
If the federal government does not step in, the region’s governments plan to vaccinate these essential workers. D.C., Maryland and Virginia also have agreed to vaccinate essential workers whose jobs are with local governments — such as teachers and police officers — in the jurisdiction where they work, even if that is not where they reside.
As of Jan. 28, more than 26,000 of the 62,000 doses delivered in D.C. went to nonresidents. In the initial weeks of vaccinations, Maryland and Virginia gave about 16,000 doses to the District to cover such workers but have not provided more doses since as their own residents clamor for vaccinations.
“I think we should move past this concept, as I’ve spoken with my colleagues, of us continuing to borrow vaccines from each other,” Nesbitt said. “No one is adequately supplied to meet each other’s needs in the national capital region.”
Nesbitt said she hopes the District will be able to vaccinate at least 70 percent of its older residents by the end of February. The pace could pick up thanks to a new federal program that ships vaccine doses directly to certain commercial pharmacies. In the District, Nesbitt said, Giant pharmacies will be receiving some doses and will schedule appointments through the city’s website.
Nesbitt said she likely will authorize vaccines for grocery store workers by the end of the month but will wait longer for eligibility announcements for other large groups, including adults with chronic medical conditions.
In response to questions from council members, Nesbitt said the city has administered first doses of a vaccine to more than 520 people who are homeless, about 200 correctional workers and 40 inmates at correctional facilities. More than 2,100 adults are in the custody of the D.C. Department of Corrections. The District began vaccinating them on Monday.
Elsewhere in the region, debate continued over vaccine distribution as Maryland officials responded to criticism from leaders in Prince George’s and Montgomery counties over the allocation of doses.
In Prince George’s County, council member Mel Franklin (D-At Large) on Wednesday called Maryland’s vaccine distribution system “racially discriminatory” because small, less-diverse jurisdictions have received more vaccine doses per capita than larger, racially diverse localities such as Prince George’s and neighboring Montgomery County.
“African-American and Latino communities have born the brunt of this virus, but, in our state, are receiving an unfairly low share of COVID-19 vaccine doses,” he said in a statement, echoing criticism made by Montgomery officials a day earlier. “This strategy will slow our state’s recovery and cost lives.”
Maryland had administered first doses to more than 750,000 people, or about 12 percent of its population, as of Wednesday, state data shows. Rural Kent and Garrett counties led the state with over 12 percent of its population vaccinated, while Prince George’s lagged with just 4.3 percent of its population vaccinated.
In an interview, Franklin said he does not think the state’s intent was to cause racial disparities in vaccine distribution, “but it was the outcome.”
Maryland’s acting heath secretary, Dennis Schrader, said in a letter to local officials dated Tuesday that the state distributes the vaccine by population but divides doses among all vaccinators in a county, not just local health departments.
Schrader noted that health departments have been requesting more doses each week than the state receives, and fulfilling their requests is not only impossible but would leave no doses for hospitals, pharmacies or other providers.
Michael Ricci, a spokesman for Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R), said the state has adopted a “series of actions” to support vaccinations in Prince George’s, including establishing a mass vaccination site at Six Flags America and assigning 50 volunteers from the state’s Medical Reserve Corps to assist with the county’s efforts.
Montgomery Health Officer Travis Gayles said Wednesday that another challenge in distributing vaccine doses is not having adequate notice from the state health department on how many doses the county government will receive.
“That hamstrings us and prevents us from being able to stand up clinics in a more timely manner to address and meet the concerns of local residents,” Gayles told the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments Board of Directors.
In his letter, Schrader said the state notifies local governments of their allotments on a weekly basis when the state learns the information from the federal government. In the future, he said, the Biden administration plans to provide two weeks’ worth of allocation information to states to better help with planning.
At the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments meeting, local officials reiterated the need for a nationwide increase in vaccine supplies but added that more needs to be done on the local and state levels to improve communication of vaccine eligibility and registration.
“We have had for three months now, a terrible situation of communication,” said Manassas City Council member Mark Wolfe. “It’s not acceptable; we’ve got to fix it.”
Gayles said the challenge lies in the fact that there are multiple “bulky” information systems that don’t communicate. Montgomery officials are pushing for a more centralized registration system for vaccine appointments, similar to what is used in West Virginia, but representatives for the state health department said Tuesday that Maryland does not have the correct infrastructure.
“There are only four states in the country that have gone toward a centralized system,” Maryland Department of Health Assistant Director Heather Shek told county lawmakers. “This idea that Maryland is different . . . is misinformed.”
Virginia has administered first doses to just over 10 percent of its population, according to state data. Hospitals have conducted the most vaccinations, followed by local health departments and long-term care facilities. The state’s number of daily vaccinations has dipped slightly this week compared with the last week of January, when it hit a peak of nearly 30,000 vaccinations in one day.
The District had administered about 94,000 doses as of Saturday and has not provided more updated numbers. The city said it plans to administer more than 11,000 doses this week.
Lola Fadulu and Gregory S. Schneider contributed to this report.