The process is meant to alleviate the frustration of a scramble each time new appointments open. On Thursday, a batch of 4,622 appointments available online filled up in 6 minutes and 48 seconds, Deputy Mayor John Falcicchio said.
The new process, however, has left residents wondering where their place in line will be. City leaders revealed little about the matter Thursday.
While Virginia and other jurisdictions base their waiting lists largely on who registers first, D.C. Health Director LaQuandra Nesbitt said the District’s system would take many factors into account and generate its own priority order.
About half of the appointments initially will be reserved for residents of Zip codes with a large number of virus infections and fewer vaccines administered. Those areas are concentrated in the city’s three poorest wards, Nesbitt said.
She said that might mean an older resident in a wealthier ward gets invited to a vaccine appointment later than a younger adult with a health condition — such as asthma, cancer or obesity — in a prioritized Zip code.
Nesbitt said she couldn’t say whether a batch of appointments will be assigned to groups such as essential workers. People who are not eligible for the vaccine should not sign up yet, she said.
“We would be hopeful that people are not going to just go into the system who are members of the general public, not meeting any of our current criteria to preregister, believing that they are creating a place for themselves in line,” Nesbitt said.
Patrick Ashley, senior deputy director of emergency preparedness and response at the D.C. Department of Health, said during a D.C. Council oversight hearing on the vaccine rollout that health officials will make policy decisions based on preregistration data. The data also will allow the city to better target vaccination at the ward and neighborhood level while ensuring vaccines are distributed equitably, officials said.
Meanwhile, amid rising pressure to boost vaccination rates in minority communities, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) announced steps to dedicate doses to disadvantaged residents in the state’s much more decentralized vaccine rollout.
In what he called a first-of-its-kind statewide plan, a new task force will use data to determine which communities are likely to be or already are behind, targeting them with pop-up clinics and other efforts. At the same time, the state is soliciting ideas from community groups about ways to deliver vaccines through churches, civic organizations or other places.
“It’s a top-down and a bottom-up approach,” Hogan said. “We’re not where we need to be with the Black community or the Hispanic community.”
The plan specifically targets majority-Black Prince George’s County, where 8.9 percent of residents have gotten the vaccine, the lowest rate in Maryland. Statewide, 31 percent of the state’s residents are Black — a population that has received 16 percent of the doses. Hispanic residents make up 10 percent of the population but have received 3.7 percent of doses.
To start, a First Baptist Church in Glenarden will become a pop-up clinic to deliver 900 doses per day. Grocery stores have begun contacting people signed up through Prince George’s preregistration system, hoping to whittle down a waitlist of nearly 120,000.
Wegmans will start receiving doses next week at its Prince George’s location and will dedicate its clinic to county residents, while Safeway, Giant and Walmart stores across the state have dedicated half their doses to local residents. Maryland National Guard Brig. Gen. Janeen L. Birckhead, who leads the state’s vaccine equity task force, will oversee additional pop-up clinics to reach communities that lack transportation.
The efforts come as the state’s call center increasingly helps people who are less digitally savvy book appointments for mass vaccination sites by phone. Nearly half of those appointments are booked that way, Hogan administration officials said.
But just 11 percent of appointments at the Six Flags America vaccination site in Prince George’s have gone to residents of the county, while more than a third have gone to those living in neighboring Montgomery County.
“The numbers speak for themselves,” Prince George’s Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks (D) said Thursday. She called on the state to set aside specific days reserved for Prince Georgians and to open a vaccination clinic at the University of Maryland.
Alsobrooks warned residents who receive sign-up links from friends and family not to show up at sites run by the Health Department, saying they could be turned away. The county is transitioning from the state’s registration system, PrepMod, to its own system, in which residents will receive information about times and places for appointments.
Leaders in Prince George’s and Baltimore City, the state’s two majority-Black jurisdictions, on Wednesday called on Hogan to devote more doses to areas where most people are dying of the virus.
“This is costing us our lives, literally,” said Del. Erek L. Barron (D-Prince George’s). “Prince George’s County and Baltimore City are the most vulnerable and hardest hit in the state, and it is no surprise why. This should have been well anticipated.”
The two jurisdictions disproportionally have residents with underlying health conditions that make them more vulnerable to the coronavirus, as well as outsize shares of essential workers and a relative lack of access to health care, Barron said. The jurisdictions also have a disproportionate number of residents who lack transportation and Internet access.
Hogan spokesman Michael Ricci said federal guidelines call for distribution of vaccines based on population. Within that distribution, he said, pharmacies were selected based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Social Vulnerability Index. The state is also allocating doses to federally qualified health centers, which the Biden administration recommends to ensure equity.
The virus continues to plague the region. Virginia announced the first death of a child under 10 years old from the coronavirus, saying the child lived in central Virginia. State health officials said the child also suffered from a chronic health condition but didn’t release other details.
Health officials said the child’s death wasn’t the result of Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children, or MIS-C, a pediatric inflammatory illness associated with the coronavirus.
Virginia reported 31 deaths and 1,300 new cases Thursday. Maryland reported three deaths and 809 new cases, and the District reported one death and 196 cases.
If cases stay at their current level, D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) said low-contact high school sports could resume as soon as March 15. Bowser also announced that school and day-care staff will be eligible to sign up for the vaccine next week. Staff members currently working on-site have been eligible since late January and the vast majority are fully vaccinated.
As doses of the new Johnson & Johnson vaccine begin arriving in the region this week, the District announced it will send most of its doses of the single-shot vaccine to three large vaccination sites: the Entertainment and Sports Arena in Southeast, Providence Health Services in Northeast and the Walter E. Washington Convention Center downtown.
When patients book an appointment, they will be able to see which shot they will receive at the location they choose. Nesbitt said that feature debuted Thursday, and all appointments were rapidly claimed, an indication that residents didn’t have a strong preference between the Johnson & Johnson and Moderna vaccines.
Two more Maryland politicians joined the call for a mass vaccination site in Montgomery County, the state’s most populous jurisdiction.
Reps. Jamie Raskin (D) and David Trone (D) wrote a letter to Hogan arguing that Montgomery’s majority-minority population needs better access.
The congressmen acknowledged Hogan’s previous statements that Montgomery residents have been and can travel to mass vaccination sites elsewhere, but argued that “this offer seems like cold comfort when so many logistical hurdles face lower-income, working-class, immigrant, and senior residents in Montgomery who are unable to arrange transportation or get time off from work to travel to distant sites.”
In Prince George’s, Alsobrooks announced that the Wayne K. Curry Sports and Learning Complex, where the Health Department has been administering the bulk of its vaccine doses, will be closed from March 13 to March 28 for maintenance. It will be replaced by two sites, at the Kentland Community Center and at Cedar Heights Community Center.
Perry Stein and Michael Brice-Saddler contributed to this report.