Kaiser Permanente, which will administer the doses, expects to receive its initial shipment of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on Wednesday and must finish training its staff on how to handle the drug and give the shots, said LaToya Foster, a spokeswoman for D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D).
Other hospitals and health-care systems getting part of the initial shipment will begin vaccinating their workers as soon as they have completed the training process.
Foster said the fire personnel were chosen because they are willing to be vaccinated on camera and talk about it publicly, which officials hope will build confidence in a vaccine that has been politicized and is distrusted by many — especially in communities of color.
“I’m getting vaccinated for my city,” Lt. Keisha Jackson, who is in the homeland security division, said in an emailed statement. “In the last nine months, I’ve seen COVID devastate my department. I’ve seen my brothers and sisters go into the hospital. I’ve seen them with severe symptoms — things we never thought we would see.”
The others who will get the vaccine are acting fire chief John Donnelly; medical director Robert Holman; Joseph Papariello, an officer at Engine Co. 23 in Foggy Bottom; and Julio Quinteros, a firefighter and emergency medical technician assigned to Truck 4 at Engine Co. 6 in Shaw.
“The First Five are sending a strong message about the importance of this vaccine,” Bowser said in a statement. “Our front-line health care workers and emergency responders have led our community through this pandemic with courage and compassion, and now we are proud to deliver this vaccine to them.”
The distribution of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine, which the Food and Drug Administration authorized last week, comes as the Washington region is reporting thousands of new coronavirus cases daily. More than 700 D.C. residents have died of the virus, and the number of deaths in the District, Maryland and Virginia passed 10,000 on Thursday.
The District’s first shipments will include 6,825 of the 2.9 million doses that are being sent across the country starting Monday. A person must get two doses, several weeks apart, for the vaccine to be fully effective.
That initial supply will cover only a tiny fraction of the 85,000 health-care workers whom the District is placing in its top priority group, along with first responders.
That’s because the federal government tied the allocation of doses to the population of a given jurisdiction instead of its health-care workforce. And around 75 percent of the city’s health-care workers commute to the city from Maryland and Virginia.
City officials, the D.C. Hospital Association, and the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments have all urged the federal government to adjust its allocation formula for the city, but federal officials have said it would be unfair to do so.
“If vaccines are administered through work sites, as is proposed, fewer health-care employees working in the District of Columbia will receive vaccines in the earliest phases of the vaccination program than in any other area of the country,” the chairs of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments wrote in a letter sent to Operation Warp Speed last week.
The vaccines will first be distributed to six sites that have the proper storage capacity: MedStar Washington Hospital Center, Howard University Hospital, George Washington University Hospital, Children’s National Hospital, Kaiser Permanente, and MedStar Georgetown University Hospital.
Those sites are partnering with other providers to help with distribution across the city.
While the District has been preparing to distribute a vaccine since the summer, and has bought supplies to do so including 184,000 needles and syringes, vaccinators still have to be trained before distribution can begin, city officials said. It is unclear how long that training will take; officials said they are still waiting for final guidance from the CDC.
“Some vaccines require mixing, some of them don’t,” D.C. health director LaQuandra Nesbitt said at a news conference last week. “Some of them have unique storage properties or requirements, some of them don’t. This vaccine comes in its own unique container, that container can only be opened twice a day. You want people to really be able to be trained on those things, so for me to give you a date certain by which all of that will be completed would not be wise.”
The first phase of distribution includes two parts. Health-care workers and first responders will be vaccinated in the first part, and essential workers and at-risk residents will be vaccinated in the second part. Altogether, there will be three phases of distribution, with the general public eligible for a vaccine in the last phase.