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Opinion Why are half of the newly vaccinated people in D.C. younger than 44?

Older adults wait in line for a coronavirus vaccine in D.C. on Jan. 12. (Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post)

Dan Stone is a D.C. resident.

Young people at low risk of having serious cases of coronavirus may be crowding out those at higher risk in D.C.'s vaccination program.

In the past three weeks, as authorities have expanded vaccine eligibility to all adults with qualifying medical conditions, 49.5 percent of newly vaccinated D.C. residents have been age 44 and younger, a group that by any measure is least at risk of dying from the coronavirus. Among those in D.C. age 16 to 44, one in 9,137 has died of the coronavirus; one in 227 older than 44 has. Put differently, since the start of the pandemic, 96.3 percent of people who have lost their lives to the coronavirus in D.C. have been older than 44.

A single dose of vaccine is generally considered highly effective in itself, yet 62 percent of D.C. residents older than 44 have yet to receive one. On May 1, D.C. plans to open vaccination to all adults, a move that I fear may be premature.

Arguably the most worrisome part of the recent numbers is that it appears people age 20 to 44 have leapfrogged people aged 45 to 64 in getting the vaccine, though the latter group is at much greater risk of dying of the coronavirus. Because Washingtonians age 20 to 44 outnumber those age 45 to 64 by more than two to one, opening vaccination to all adults may only exacerbate the recent trend.

At the current rate of administration (an average of the past three weeks), it will take 15 weeks to vaccinate D.C. residents older than 44. However, if all first doses were allocated to people over 44 in the next eight weeks, we would vaccinate the entire population that accounts for 96.3 percent of coronavirus deaths. Taken in turn, those over 65, a group that represents 72 percent of D.C. coronavirus deaths, could be vaccinated in two weeks, and those between 45 and 65 could be vaccinated in six weeks. Obviously, this alternative is unlikely and assumes that all people offered a dose would accept one, but it provides a helpful point of comparison.

I recognize that I am talking about a difference of weeks here, but in the past month, not a single coronavirus fatality of the 49 reported in D.C. was a person younger than 45. While vaccine doses remain scarce, it would presumably be prudent to use what supply we have to prevent as many deaths as possible.

The 49.5 percent figure I cited above is not published anywhere and cannot be determined from the data D.C. publishes at the moment. I only have it by virtue of taking screenshots of numbers posted on an online dashboard that were subsequently removed and comparing them. Nor does D.C. currently publish fatality data that uses the same age categories as its vaccination data. I had to write a computer script to scrape data from hundreds of news releases to collect it. This simply shouldn’t be necessary.

There may be valid reasons such a great proportion of first doses are going to younger residents. Perhaps people older than 44 are not signing up to be vaccinated. Perhaps health-care and other front-line workers skew younger. Perhaps, because the majority (67 percent) of D.C.’s population is under 44, a large number of people in this population have medical conditions that make them eligible. Regardless, D.C. should be open about this. In the absence of transparency, as The Post reported over the weekend, anecdotes about healthy young people being vaccinated tinge the vaccine program with an air of unfairness.

To be sure, not everything is in the hands of the D.C. government. From what I have seen, the mayor and her colleagues have worked hard through the pandemic to keep D.C. running. They cannot force people to sign up to be vaccinated and come to appointments. But it is well within their power to publish clearer and more detailed data about who is getting vaccinated.

As a first step, I welcome publication of weekly vaccination data that breaks down who has received a dose of the vaccine by eligibility category and demographics. Though no individual should have to explain why he or she is getting or has gotten a vaccine, it does not mean that D.C. cannot and should not publish aggregate numbers, information already collected during registration.

I know that I and most people would not hold it against D.C. if it reported having trouble engaging older residents who have yet to register and is therefore giving more doses to younger Washingtonians. In fact, I would happily volunteer to help in any way that I could.

Read more:

George A. Jones: How we’re working toward racial equity in distributing coronavirus vaccines in D.C.

Uché Blackstock and Oni Blackstock: White Americans are being vaccinated at higher rates than Black Americans. Such inequity cannot stand.

Oni Blackstock and Uché Blackstock: Black Americans should face lower age cutoffs to qualify for a vaccine

Leana S. Wen: On vaccines, America must balance speed and equity

Colbert I. King: Covid-19 has delivered a sudden end to D.C.’s booming economy