Whitman-Walker Health, D.C.’s community health center with a special outreach to LGBTQ people and people with HIV, plans to administer the coronavirus vaccine in alignment with official D.C. Public Health guidelines, according to Dr. Sarah Henn, Whitman-Walker’s Chief Health Officer.
Henn said Whitman-Walker will initially prioritize its vaccine availability to health care workers to be followed by D.C. residents who are patients at its health centers who are considered to be at high-risk for COVID-19 and its associated illnesses.
“As the vaccine becomes more available, Whitman-Walker will work with the Maryland and Virginia health departments to ensure that our indicated, high-risk patients who reside in those states will also have access to the vaccine,” Henn said in a statement.
“Whitman-Walker is contracted with the city to dispense the COVID-19 vaccine in accordance with CDC and D.C. Health guidelines, and we will procure additional vaccines through our normal channels once the vaccine is more widely available,” she said.
News of Whitman-Walker’s plans to dispense the vaccine came one day after D.C., Maryland, and Virginia joined nearly all states across the country in launching a massive vaccination program that began with limiting the vaccine to front-line healthcare workers, first responders, and residents and employees at nursing homes.
At a news conference on Monday, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser joined other city officials in expressing hope that the launching of the vaccination program would mark the beginning of a major turning point to reverse the harmful impact the COVID pandemic has had on D.C. residents and community-based businesses.
Under an official D.C. vaccination plan adopted earlier this year based on guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), this week’s efforts were part of the plan’s Phase 1A, which calls for limiting vaccinations to healthcare workers, first responders such as Department of Fire and Emergency Medical Services personnel, and nursing home residents and staff.
The plan’s next phase, Phase 1B, calls for making as many doses of the vaccine that become available for people of all ages with underlying conditions such as respiratory or cardiovascular ailments and those with weakened immune systems due to organ transplants or cancer chemotherapy. Seniors, who are also considered at higher risk for COVID complications, were also expected to be included in Phase 1B.
The final phase, Phase 2, was expected to include the general public. But officials with the D.C. Department of Health have said the wide-scale dispensing of the vaccine for the general public was not expected to take place until the spring at the earliest.
Bowser and Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt, director of the D.C. Department of Health, have said the first supply of 6,825 doses of the vaccine the city received this week from the federal government was insufficient. Nesbitt noted that most of the city’s nearly 85,000 healthcare workers live in Maryland and Virginia and commute to their jobs, many at hospitals in D.C.
Federal officials reportedly calculated the number of Phase 1 doses for D.C. based on the number of city residents and didn’t account for the large number of healthcare workers that reside in the suburbs but work in D.C. frontline health care facilities such as hospitals.
Six D.C. healthcare facilities, five of which are hospitals, are receiving this week’s first shipment of vaccine doses. They include George Washington University Hospital, Georgetown Hospital, Children’s Medical Center, Howard University Hospital, and the Kaiser Permanente healthcare facilities.
“We expect to receive our first doses of the vaccine in the following weeks, but this timeline is dependent on updates from the CDC and the status and quantity of its shipments,” Whitman-Walker’s Henn told the Blade. “With D.C. receiving just under 7,000 doses this week, hospital workers were first in line for this batch of the vaccine,” she said.
“Once we do receive doses of the vaccine at Whitman-Walker, they will be available at both our Max Robinson Center in historic Anacostia and our 1525 14th Street, N.W. health center,” Henn said.
Earlier this year, Whitman-Walker, under Henn’s direction, opened respiratory clinics at two of its facilities to test and treat patients for COVID.
At the time Whitman-Walker opened its respiratory clinics earlier this year to treat COVID patients, Henn said the risk of people with HIV who are receiving standard care treatment to control their HIV is not significantly greater than the general public for contracting or becoming seriously ill from COVID-19.