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DC firefighter on volunteering to get vaccine: It's 'people who look like me' who are dying

As the first doses of the vaccine began arriving in D.C. on Monday, the city's First Five talk about why they volunteered to lead the way in getting the vaccine.

WASHINGTON — Two D.C. firefighters who’ve volunteered to be among the first in the region to get the coronavirus vaccine spoke publicly Monday about their decision.

Mayor Muriel Bowser announced on Sunday that a group of front-line health care providers known as The First Five would receive some of the first doses of the vaccine as a way of shoring up trust in it. The members of the group are:

  • Acting Fire and EMS Chief John Donnelly
  • Dr. Robert Holman, DC Fire and EMS medical director
  • Lt. Joseph Papariello
  • Lt. Keishea Jackson
  • Firefighter/EMT Julio Quinteros

Donnelly, Papariello and Jackson joined the mayor at her weekly press briefing Monday to talk about why they decided to step forward.

Jackson admitted that she was skeptical of the vaccine and first, and that she was thinking she might “maybe wait a year” before getting it. But then her best friend, a nurse, got sick with the virus. Jackson, who is Black, also said she felt a responsibility to her community.

“For me, it’s also about trying to send a message to Black and brown people who look like me,” she said. “It’s my race who is leaving here at an alarming rate.”

Credit: WUSA9
DC Fire and EMS Lt. Keishea Jackson, one of the first people in the District who will receive the coronavirus vaccine.

Donelly said he felt it was incumbent upon him as the acting chief to lead by example.

“As the leader of the department, I won’t have my people do anything I won’t do,” Donnelly said. “And there is enough concern about the vaccine around the country that… there have been people who’ve said they’ll get the vaccine because I’m getting it. So I think it’s important.”

Citywide, even among health care workers there is skepticism about the safety of the vaccine, according to Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt, director of DC Health. Nesbitt said willingness to get the vaccine varies among different racial and socioeconomic groups of health care workers, with some reporting as low as a 40% willingness to get the virus, while others had 90% of members say they’d get it.

Partly because of that, Nesbitt said the city may only have 60-70% of its front-line health care workers vaccinated before it moves on to administering doses to the next group – vulnerable long-term care residents and staff and first responders.

The first doses of the vaccine began arriving in D.C. at George Washington University Hospital on Monday morning. It’s one of six sites around the city expected to receive doses by the end of the week.

Kaiser Permanente is expected to administer the doses to The First Five on Thursday.

Credit: DC Health
Six sites in D.C. will receive doses of the vaccine during the first round of distribution.

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