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Vaccine reporting delays cited in D.C. region amid sluggish start to distribution

Joseph Chronowski, a master firefighter and paramedic, has his picture taken as he receives the coronavirus vaccine in Montgomery County, Md., on Dec. 30. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)

Coronavirus vaccinations are off to a sluggish start across the greater Washington region, with only a fraction of allotted doses being administered in the past three weeks.

Delays in reporting might make the problem look worse than it is, officials said.

In Maryland, less than one-quarter of the state’s initial batch of 273,875 vaccines has been used, according to state data released Monday. In Virginia, only one-fifth of the state’s allotment of 451,075 doses, or 89,326 vaccinations, had been administered, according to state figures.

In the District, that number stands at about 17,000 of 40,075 delivered doses. But city officials said only 58 percent of health-care providers are fully reporting their vaccine administrations to the city’s immunization information system. Totals won’t be accurate until providers learn how to use the system correctly and consistently, D.C. officials said.

Virginia health officials also say hitches with the state’s new immunization reporting database are making the reported numbers lag actual vaccinations. And in Maryland, the sluggish rollout can partly be attributed to slow reporting from hospitals and pharmacies, such as Walgreens and CVS, charged with inoculating residents of long-term-care facilities.

Maryland officials said they belatedly learned one hospital had not logged more than 2,000 vaccinations, while federal guidelines allow pharmacies to wait as long as 72 hours before reporting inoculations.

The reporting issues are compounding what has proved to be a complicated process of delivering the highly anticipated vaccinations.

“This is the most extensive public vaccination campaign in modern history, and every state in the country is working through similar logistical challenges,” Alena Yarmosky, a spokeswoman for Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D), said via email. “Our main hiccups right now are around data reporting.”

Yarmosky said the state expects “a significant increase in administered doses over the next week,” adding that Northam will highlight additional steps at a Wednesday news conference.

Steve Arner, an executive with Carilion Clinic in Roanoke and board chairman of the Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association, said providers and the state are working together to improve the reporting process.

“We expect that more vaccine doses have been administered than are currently reflected” in the state’s numbers, he said in a statement.

Michael Ricci, a spokesman for Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R), echoed similar sentiments on Twitter: “Yes, it’s a bit of a slow takeoff, as we anticipated it would be. We expect the ramp up to continue this week, especially from our hospitals and local health departments.”

Hogan activates National Guard to help with vaccine distribution as death toll rises

Front-line medical workers, paramedics and nursing home residents and employees are included in the first-wave inoculations. Ricci said Maryland will offer more details Tuesday on when high-risk and older residents outside nursing homes would be eligible for vaccinations. Hogan has scheduled a 5 p.m. news conference.

The Maryland Democratic Party called on Hogan to expedite vaccinations, with party chair Yvette Lewis saying in a statement that “there is no excuse” for the slow rollout.

Maryland’s Washington suburbs have vaccinated a smaller percentage of their population than elsewhere in the state. The capital region, defined by the state as Montgomery, Prince George’s, Charles and Frederick counties, has vaccinated 0.58 percent of residents, about half the state average of 1.09 percent.

In contrast, the Baltimore metropolitan area and the Eastern Shore have vaccinated 1.28 percent and 1.5 percent, respectively.

Meanwhile, Maryland’s coronavirus test positivity rate has risen two percentage points in the past two weeks, to 9.47 on Monday. Hogan on Monday said the spike prompted him to open a special enrollment period that allows the uninsured to sign up for Medicaid or subsidized private policies sold on the Maryland Health Exchange through mid-March.

Coronavirus cases and metrics in D.C., Maryland and Virginia

Overall, the greater Washington region reported 6,394 new coronavirus infections Monday. That included 140 new cases and three deaths in the District; 2,483 cases and 33 deaths in Maryland; and 3,771 cases and eight deaths in Virginia.

The rolling seven-day average of new infections in the region hit 7,363 on Monday, setting a record, while the average number of daily deaths attributed to the virus stood at 84 — one short of the high mark of 85 last recorded Saturday.

D.C. officials on Monday announced target dates to begin vaccinating residents outside of the first priority group.

Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) said the city hopes to open its vaccination scheduling portal next week to residents at least 65 years old. The city is also aiming to make the vaccine available to specific categories of essential workers — including public safety and grocery store employees, as well as workers in PreK-12 educational and child-care settings — the week of Jan. 25.

Bowser said the portal might open to residents with chronic medical conditions and other non-front-line essential workers in the first week of February.

“Remember, these are target dates,” Bowser said. “We would be prepared to turn them on sooner or later depending on what D.C. Health needs to get done.”

The city published an initial set of coronavirus vaccine metrics Monday detailing how many doses have been delivered to D.C. health-care providers and how many workers have received the vaccine.

The data shows 3,656 eligible workers have made appointments to receive the vaccine out of 10,182 available slots. D.C. Health Director LaQuandra Nesbitt said it’s too early to conclude that people are hesitant to take the vaccine and said the city must do more to tell eligible recipients they can apply online to be vaccinated.

Nesbitt added that health-care providers were instructed to use any vaccines at their disposal before they expire, even if the recipients are not in the first priority group. Because the two approved coronavirus vaccines require cold storage, they have to be used within a certain period of time or they go to waste, she said.

D.C. region rolls out coronavirus vaccine amid push to reach priority groups

“Any person who is available to be vaccinated should be vaccinated,” she said. “Our goal is to have minimal wastage of vaccine, and if there are people who are available at the end of the day to be vaccinated, then you should vaccinate them.”

The prospect of valuable doses going to waste has haunted providers around the region. A pharmacist at the Giant Foods store in Northeast Washington was anxious that several doses of the vaccine were about to go to waste, so she began scrambling to find people to give them to.

David MacMillan, a law school student, was shopping at the store with a friend when the pharmacist flagged the two down, according to MacMillan’s TikTok video.

Some first responders had missed their appointments and their doses otherwise would have been thrown away.

MacMillan and his friend agreed to get vaccinated. “Talk about a great way to start 2021!!” MacMillan wrote in the video.

The pharmacist who administered the doses to MacMillan and his friend was following guidance from the D.C. Department of Health, said Felis Andrade, a spokesman for Giant Foods. “The Moderna vaccine is valuable and lifesaving, and we are happy to have not wasted it and given this couple each a dose,” Andrade wrote in a statement.

In Virginia, state health officials announced that Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, will join Northam and other leaders for an online event Jan. 8.

It’s part of a series of weekly sessions called “Facts & Faith Fridays,” created by the director of the Massey Cancer Center at Virginia Commonwealth University and aimed at African American clergy “to address the disparate impact the pandemic has had on the Black community,” according to a news release from the Virginia Department of Health.

Lola Fadulu and Rebecca Tan contributed to this report.

Coronavirus news in D.C., Virginia and Maryland

The latest: More than two years into the pandemic, covid cases in the D.C. region are rising again, , while liberal Montgomery County asks who deserves credit for its robust covid response. Meanwhile, Black funeral directors still face a daunting amount of deaths from covid and the omicron wave has had an unequal toll in the DMV.

At-home tests: Here’s how to use at-home covid tests, where to find them and how they differ from PCR tests.

Mapping the spread: Tens of thousands have died in the local region and nationwide cases number in the hundreds of thousands.

Omicron: Remaining covid restrictions in the D.C.-area, plus a breakdown of variant symptoms and mask recommendations.

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