I wanted to send a brief note to touch base on vaccine registration and distribution. I know it has been a challenging few weeks, on top of a challenging year.
My team and I have been registering seniors directly since January so people without access to computers are not left behind. Every week, we each set up our multiple devices and open our list of eligible seniors to try to get them an appointment. It’s a terrible feeling to be on the phone with someone and tell them you were not able to secure an appointment for them. And also a wonderful feeling when we secure an appointment. However, being so involved has given us direct insight into what is working and what isn't working. We’ve encountered every technology issue that you have. The captcha, error pages, website crashes -- feedback that I've shared with the DC Health all along the way to make the system better.
For those who have only recently become eligible for the vaccine, you are now experiencing first hand the instability of the vaccine registration system we currently have deployed. Last week, the system crashed completely several days in a row when it was overwhelmed by the number of users. This week, although I heard from some of you who successfully scheduled an appointment, many others were stymied by the system not loading until several minutes after the announced start time, and ultimately did not get appointments because of the high demand.
Even though the DC Council does not have control over the implementation of this system, at the end of the day, we are one government and we will all be held accountable. Since the beginning of the pandemic I have pushed and prodded DC Health to do better - whether it was more and better testing, more transparency around plans to re-open schools, a better registration system for seniors, more access to the vaccine for residents who don't speak English...I've been doing all I can to make these transitions better for all.
I think we all understand that DC hasn’t had enough vaccine supply and that it will take time to get everyone vaccinated. However, there is no reason that the process has to be this stressful. Both the Black Friday style system and the constant technology issues are unacceptable. We need a system that works now, before residents become discouraged and give up on trying to register for a vaccine.
As a member of the health committee, I participated in a hearing on the vaccine registration process yesterday that lasted into the evening. We heard from DC Health, the Chief Technology Officer, and the Office of the City Administrator on the technology issues. Lindsey Parker, DC's Chief Technology Officer, noted in the hearing that my office's involvement in registering people and providing feedback has been really helpful for the agency as they work to improve the process.
As you may be aware, Councilmembers have been pushing for a different registration system that allows people to pre-register and receive a notification when it is your turn to register. DC Health had previously announced that this week would be the last week for the current system and provided a preview of the registration system. Last night, we were told that they were still deciding between two vendors for the new registration system. I’ll continue to ask about how we will launch this new system, but to say that I share your frustration in the execution of vaccine distribution is really a very gentle way of putting it.
Some of you have also written to me on two specific topics regarding vaccine distribution. First, why does it seem like we are not distributing our vaccine efficiently when I look at websites like the New York Times Vaccine Tracker? Second, why are we vaccinating non-DC residents? Good questions.
I too, have been monitoring the New York Times tracker and other national data sources. The most relevant statistic on those sites is vaccine distributed, rather than percentage of population vaccinated, because every city and state gets different amounts of vaccine allocated. From the outset, DC was leading the nation in vaccine distribution, and that was reflected on the national sites. When you look today, however, it appears we’ve fallen behind. We learned from the DC Health in our weekly briefing that while initially the CDC was only including our local allocation in the Washington, DC data, they are now including federal “pods” that are set aside for Dept. Of Defense, for example. That currently accounts for about 20,000 more vaccines that we actually don't have access to for distribution. On the record at our public hearing last night, DC Health reported that we are at 82% for vaccine distribution. Council has advocated for DC Health to ask the CDC to separate out the allocations so that only our local allocation is included in the Washington, DC data.
You might wish to follow along directly on our data site which has a clearer explanation and more up-to-date information: https://coronavirus.dc.gov/data/vaccination. You can look at the information below the bar chart for a better understanding of how we are doing. However, even our site does not account for all the vaccine that has been distributed because there is a lag in vaccine administrators uploading their data, according to DC Health. This is not the level of transparency that we should have regarding vaccines, and the Council has urged DC Health to fix this so that the public can rely on the data they see.
For those who are concerned about why non-DC residents are receiving the vaccine, you are probably aware that we are vaccinating our healthcare workforce, police, fire, teachers etc. which includes Maryland and Virginia residents. They were first in the rollout. So the number of DC residents with a full 2 doses is lower than it might be in other parts of the country that don't need their out of state workforce vaccinated in order to achieve herd immunity. The number of DC residents who have received 1 dose has now surpassed non-DC residents. As we move through the phases, the percentage of our residents who are fully vaccinated will overtake the number of non-residents.
My team and I are working day and night to help as many people as we can and to improve these systems and services. We want these issues to be resolved as much as you do! We will get this fixed. We will get through this. We will vaccinate all of our residents who want to be vaccinated, and hopefully bring along those who initially did not want to be vaccinated.