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Washington Mystics arena site of mass vaccination site; It's in a ward that has most COVID deaths in District

D.C. opened a high-capacity site at the Mystics arena and another at Providence health system this weekend.

WASHINGTON — D.C. Health set up one of its clinics east of the river in the home of the Washington Mystics — the Entertainment and Sports Arena, located in Ward 8. As of Sunday, health data reports 196 deaths since the start of the pandemic — the most of any ward in the District.

3,000 Johnson & Johnson vaccines made it into D.C. residents' arms over the weekend as the city opened two new mass vaccination sites. The other site was set up in northeast D.C. at Providence Health System.

At the arena — Georgetown University medical and nursing students staffed the 13 vaccination cubicles, administering 750 doses a day. In total, the vaccination unit leader deputy estimated 100 volunteers participating throughout the day.

Each shot is appointment-based and is booked through registrations made on D.C.'s vaccine portal, according to D.C. Health Senior Deputy Director, Patrick Ashley.

67-year-old Valerie Swaringer got her shot Sunday morning, though she resisted going at first.

"I wasn't going to take it. And my kids, you know, registered me online. I went to my primary care doctor and she suggested I go ahead on and have it," Swaringer said. "So I made up my mind, came on, and I'm glad I did."

RELATED: In move for vaccine equity, DC set to prioritize Ward 6 ZIP code with disparity

Swaringer lost her husband to COVID in April 2020.

“He had a seizure, went to the hospital, and caught COVID in the hospital or the day after," she said. "So, three days later, he was gone. I wasn't able to see him … and it was devastating.”

The medical students who are volunteering and administering the vaccines said hearing stories like Swaringer's help fuel their desire to help.

"It's really meaningful, just sort of as a medical student and for myself to be able to administer the vaccine to sort of help people," fourth-year medical student, John Hebb said. "A lot of the patients that I've interacted with, it's been like a very emotional experience for them."

If some people do not show up for their dose, vaccination unit leader deputy and med student Nellie Darling said they have a list of unvaccinated arena staff, volunteers, and community members who can come in at a moment's notice.

"We want to give every dose that we've got," Darling said. "You know, it's a race against herd immunity and how fast can we get these vaccines into people's arms. So the more we can do this, the better we can serve our community."

Ashley said the vaccine supply is gradually ramping up. Now, they're getting 25,000 vaccines a week.

“Our message has always been that DC needs more vaccine," he said. "As we get more vaccine, we'll continue to open additional community sites, which are our smaller sites throughout the city, as well as open up additional availability here at our high capacity sites.”

He said continuing mass vaccination sites each week will depend on supply. Ashley sees advantages to both the mass vaccination sites and the smaller clinics D.C. Health is continuing to set up in different communities.

"The drawbacks of the mass vaccination sites or high capacity sites, as we like to say, are typically larger in size, which means that there's more walk in. They're normally centrally located in the city," and very efficient, Ashley said. "The community sites, though, are spread out throughout the city, which makes it easier to get to you for some populations."

As D.C. prepares to continue receiving more and more vaccines, Ashley said they'll keep looking at opportunities to bring the vaccines into the community in an equitable way.

"Make sure that we're getting further and deeper into the community so that we do address individuals who may not be able to get to some of the sites that we have," he said.

He said they're also planning to start rolling out vaccines to individual providers so that eventually all providers in the District will have access to the COVID vaccine like they carry annual flu shots.

Ashley said the new registration site gives them a significantly larger data set, so they can start targeting specific neighborhoods and specific initiatives aimed at certain groups or parts of the city.

Darling, Hebb, and Ashley all echo the sentiment: the best vaccine is the one you can get.

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