WASHINGTON — When D.C.’s vaccine pre-registration site went live Wednesday tens of thousands of people took the opportunity to sign up, whether they are currently encouraged to or not. As of 8 p.m. on Wednesday, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said 77,141 people had pre-registered for a COVID-19 vaccine appointment.
A spokesperson for the mayor’s office said they don’t have data yet on the racial and ethnic makeup of who exactly signed up, but we do know a little bit about where people are signing up from and it’s not the priority zip codes.
D.C. residents in the “any zip code” category make up nearly three times the number of people who signed up in “priority zip codes”.
The mayor’s office reported 33,098 people who weren’t yet eligible for the vaccine pre-registered on the first day.
“33,000, who are not eligible to register, or not in an eligible group, have registered," Bowser said. "So people are doing that and they can do it. We, however, are focused on those people who are eligible for appointments right now."
People signing up for the vaccine, despite not being in a priority zip code, is something Bread for the City CEO George Jones said is a trend.
“Oftentimes when these new sites open up you still see disparities playing themselves out, but at least I think the government and certainly the providers are trying to be intentional about reversing those kinds of patterns,” Jones said.
Bread for the City, a local nonprofit that provides food, clothing, medical, legal, social services, and medical services, also serves as a D.C. vaccine distribution point. Jones said the nonprofit has a history of serving people of color.
“The numbers suggested that Black and brown people are being affected at a higher rate and dying, more importantly, at a higher rate from the COVID virus. And so, so we wanted to be a part of it for that reason,” Jones said.
However, when they first started inoculating people, Jones said it wasn’t the community that typically comes to the clinic that was lining up for a COVID-19 vaccine.
“Initially we didn't have our own patients, we were a part of the portal. And I think we're seeing nationally that when you simply use the internet to get access to the vaccine it skews wildly towards white people and people with privilege. We saw that the first week or two,” Jones said.
He said they got permission from the D.C. government to pivot from the online signup and instead reach out to the community through their own community partners and patients. He said when that happened, they saw a change.
“We started to see the numbers go from one extreme to the other. Where it's probably 80% of the people we saw initially were white in our clinic, now probably between 70% and 80% of people we see on any given day are people of color,” Jones said.
Jones said in a lot of ways COVID-19 and vaccine disparities are symptoms of a larger problem of poverty and historic and systemic racism.
“In a perfect world there’d be 300 million doses of the vaccine and everybody in America can get it, that would solve the problem of disparities,” Jones said. “I think it has to be said that that's really what's driving the challenges of rolling this out in an equitable way. But since we don't have enough doses, and because people of color being are disproportionately affected and dying, it makes sense to prioritize those communities. And so I was glad to DC. health department saw that and responded to it as quickly as possible.”
Friday morning 13,550 vaccine invitations will go out to some of the more than 77,000 who pre-registered.
Bowser -- along with D.C. Health Director Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt -- said the system will prioritize three groups for now -- with 40% of the doses going to D.C. residents aged 65 and up, 40% going to 18 to 64 year-olds with certain medical conditions, and the remaining 20% allocated to eligible workers.
Bowser said 50% of the doses allocated to each category will be reserved for priority zip codes. She said people will be selected randomly to receive a dose.
According to city officials, the District is getting 24,760 doses delivered this week. More than 7,000 of those doses will go to hospitals for their patients, around 3,000 for special initiatives and around 15,000 will go toward appointments on D.C.'s vaccination website.