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DC Health only expects to get fraction of COVID-19 vaccine it needs for health care workers at first

The city says it believes it has enough ultra-cold storage to house doses of the coronavirus vaccine when they become available.

WASHINGTON — D.C. already has the ultra-cold storage capacity it needs to house coronavirus vaccines when they become available, but will likely only get a fraction of the doses it needs to inoculate frontline health care workers at first, the city’s top health official said Monday.

Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt, director of the District of Columbia Department of Health, joined Mayor Muriel Bowser Monday at her weekly coronavirus briefing to talk about the city’s efforts to prepare for distribution of an eventual COVID-19 vaccine.

Nesbitt said unlike other jurisdictions – Maryland, for example, which purchased five ultra-cold freezers to store the Pfizer vaccine – D.C. was advised to look for existing capacity within the city. DC Health was able to identify acute care providers and pharmacies in the District that already have ultra-cold storage in place. Nesbitt said the city did decide to purchase one additional freezer for itself.

But even with sufficient storage, she said the city expects to receive far fewer doses of the vaccine than it needs at first.

“As it stands, [we expect] about 1/10th of what we estimate we need for our Phase I A Group, which is health care workers,” Nesbitt said.

An additional wrinkle is that, according to Nesbitt, about 75% of the city’s health care workers live in either Maryland or Virginia, which have separate vaccine distribution plans.

In addition to Nesbitt’s vaccine update, Bowser announced an additional $10 million in grants the city is making available for rent assistance. The money will cover up to $2,000 a month since April, and will pay 80% of delinquent rent if the housing provider agrees to wave the remaining rent and unpaid fees.

Applications for the program will open on Tuesday and close December 11.

Bowser also said the existing COVID-19 Housing Assistance Program is being underutilized – with only $500,000 of the available $6.2 million having been approved for distribution so far.

More information about the city’s rent assistance efforts may be found here.