FEMA denied DC request for pilot community vaccine center

D.C. is getting shortchanged by the federal government again.

As the District continues to fight to get more COVID-19 vaccine doses, the nation’s capital has been denied acceptance into a pilot community vaccine center program by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, D.C. officials said Thursday.

Being accepted into the program would have increased D.C.’s vaccine supply, because the FEMA-run sites receive a vaccine allotment separate from what the government sends states.

Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency Director Chris Rodriguez said D.C. asked to be part of the program late last year.

“Ultimately, D.C. was deemed ineligible for that program for a variety of reasons that FEMA has defined … population-wise, social vulnerability index, as you know, we did not meet that criteria,” Rodriguez said.

“We were told that we were denied.”

According to Rodriguez, the federal denial is part of what led to the District requesting vaccine support from Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan.

“I think it’s important to note that the community vaccination program that FEMA is rolling out has very specific requirements. And we just confirmed with FEMA yesterday that D.C. is still not eligible for that program,” Rodriguez said.

“But we will continue to advocate in our biweekly calls with FEMA leadership, to make sure that we’re getting the vaccine doses that we need. And I think it only underscores the importance that the District needs more vaccine.”

He added that D.C. has “the infrastructure and logistics to support the the distribution of the vaccine, we just need more doses.”

Why DC is vaccinating non-DC residents

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser said the District is vaccinating non-residents out of necessity.

“You see the kind of tensions and trade offs involved in everything that we’re doing,” she said, adding that she often fields conflicting questions about when kids will be back in school, when people should head back to work and who’s getting vaccinated.

“But then I get a question, ‘Is this additional vaccine for childcare workers and teachers?'” Bowser said. “Well, guess what: half of them or more don’t live here. They don’t live in D.C. They live in the region. So if you want teachers and childcare workers vaccinated, then that means that not all your doses are going to D.C. residents.”

She said there are “competing demands and tensions” about how D.C. will proceed in reopening.

“When a resident asks, ‘Why are non-residents getting D.C. vaccine?’ It contributes to another question that I get, ‘How do we get more kids back in school?’ Because our teachers and childcare workers are not all — in fact, more than half probably are not D.C. residents,” Bowser said.

“So those are the trade offs that we deal with every day in this emergency response.”

DC testing numbers drop

The numbers of D.C. residents getting tested is also down, Bowser said.

“We are around, on a weekly basis for the past couple of weeks, around 35,000 or so tests, which is what we were seeing before the holiday season when the number of tests got up to 50,000,” D.C. Health Director Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt said.

“Plus, we’ve also seen an increase in the last week or two of our positive cases who are reporting a history of travel.”

She reiterated that people should get tested before and after they travel, and that there are still “many unvaccinated individuals in the District of Columbia and the country as a whole, because we don’t yet have enough vaccine for everybody who wants a dose.”

“So until we have that place where we have a huge proportion of our population that is vaccinated, we will continue to recommend testing as a way for us to quickly identify new cases, contacts to new cases and quarantine and isolation where necessary.”

Bowser: CDC numbers for District are ‘off’

Mayor Bowser said the coronavirus vaccine data that the Centers for Disease Control are putting out for the District are “off,” and she wants it fixed.

Her comments come after CDC data put the District 48th in a state list ranking vaccines administered.

“So what I am going to work with D.C. Health to do, and put in one single letter to the CDC, where we think their numbers are off,” Bowser said.

She said the discrepancy boils down to D.C.’s reported number of requested doses and “doses in the CDC’s total number, I’m told, that reflect what the government sent directly to federal entities, which we we can’t account for. They aren’t accounted for in our number.”

According to Bowser, there are also special programs that the federal government has where it distributes vaccines directly to health care providers, “which we also we don’t know exactly how those are being reported back to them.”

More Coronavirus News

Looking for more information? D.C., Maryland and Virginia are each releasing more data every day. Visit their official sites here: Virginia | Maryland | D.C.

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Will Vitka

William Vitka is a Digital Writer/Editor for WTOP.com. He's been in the news industry for over a decade. Before joining WTOP, he worked for CBS News, Stuff Magazine, The New York Post and wrote a variety of books—about a dozen of them, with more to come.

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