Maryland Health Care Workers with D.C. Jobs Could Lose Out on Initial COVID-19 Vaccines

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser is raising alarm that the District's initial allotment of COVID-19 vaccines won't be enough to cover the tens of thousands of essential health care workers who work in the city, but live in Maryland or Virginia. Photo by Heather Hazzan/Self Magazine.

WASHINGTON — The federal government’s plan to allocate COVID-19 vaccines to states based on population is creating a mismatch for the District of Columbia, with its small population but large share of health care workers who commute from Maryland and Virginia.

Roughly 75% of D.C.’s more than 80,000 health care workers live in Maryland or Virginia, according to D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser. But the District is only expecting to receive 6,800 vaccine doses in the initial batch later this month, according to The Washington Post.

That first set of vaccine doses is recommended to be used first by health care workers and those in long-term care facilities. But Bowser says the anticipated number of doses for D.C. will be far too small to cover those critical workers, because commuters from out of state aren’t factored into D.C.’s vaccine allocation.

“If the early vaccine allotment remains tied to our population, we will receive doses for less than 10% of our healthcare workers,” Bowser said in a letter this week to federal officials with Operation Warp Speed, which is organizing the vaccine rollout. She added: “Public health resources must extend beyond residency if we are to keep all those who work and live in Washington, D.C. safe.”

The District’s total adult population, used in determining the allocation, is about 578,000 as of July 2019, according to the census.

Bowser is seeking to have the district’s vaccine allocation based upon the workforce population, rather than the residential population, which she says would better align with the vaccine demand.

D.C. health officials also identified the issue in the city’s vaccine plan, noting that of the more than 30,000 individuals who work in the District’s acute care hospitals, 70 to 75% reside outside of the District.

“Despite their state of residence, they are part of the necessary workforce and critical infrastructure that keeps the District functioning,” D.C. health officials wrote. “The District will count those who reside in another state but work in District healthcare facilities as part of the essential personnel who will require a COVID-19 vaccination in the District.”

The first of two proposed vaccines that have been submitted to the Food and Drug Administration could be approved for use next week. That’s the vaccine from U.S. drugmaker Pfizer and its German partner, BioNTech. A second proposed vaccine from U.S. biotech company Moderna could be approved later this month.

The initial shipments of vaccines will be sent as soon as the FDA gives the green light.

While Maryland and Virginia will receive far more doses than tiny D.C., governors in those states have said their allotments also will not cover everyone in the highest priority groups.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has said the state is expected to receive a first batch of about 155,000 doses, which would cover only about half of the state’s frontline health care workers. Virginia is poised to receive around 70,000 doses.

D.C. has allowed Maryland and Virginia residents to use District-run COVID-19 testing sites, an approach that Bowser described in her letter as keeping “District residents and our federal and private sector workers safe until authorized vaccines become more widely available.”

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