While the District of Columbia and the state of Maryland have begun implementing their COVID-19 vaccine distribution plans, Washington Cardinal Wilton Gregory and Maryland’s bishops are urging the faithful to receive the vaccine once it is made available to them.

“Given the grave risk of harm to others, we strongly encourage the faithful to receive a vaccine against COVID, unless medically indicated otherwise,” the bishops wrote in a statement issued in December. “It is vitally important that the most vulnerable among us and those who are from communities that have been disproportionately impacted by COVID receive the vaccine swiftly.”

As of Jan. 11, the District of Columbia began offering COVID-19 vaccinations to residents 65 years old and older, part of the second such group to receive the vaccine in the city’s phased-in vaccination program. It first provided shots to healthcare workers, hospital and nursing home staffs and first responders. 

Providence Health System in Northeast Washington is one of the locations in the District providing COVID-19 vaccinations to eligible residents. 

Eligible residents can schedule an appointment for a vaccination at Providence Health System Urgent Care by visiting vaccinate.dc.gov or calling 855-363-0333. When asked to pick a location for a vaccination, people can choose Providence Health System Urgent Care.

Providence Health System administered its first COVID-19 vaccine to an associate on Jan. 11, 2021. The first recipient was Jacquelyn Horton, LICSW, the Director of Clinical Programs for the Providence Health System.

“We strongly encourage all our associates to receive a COVID-19 vaccine when it is made available to them,” said Dr. Tamarah Duperval-Brownlee, chief community impact officer, Ascension, and president and CEO of the Providence Health System. “In our view, this is the right thing to do to protect our associates and those we are privileged to serve. We are thankful for all who have made this vaccine possible and for the continued dedication of our selfless caregivers.”

On Jan. 25, the District is scheduled to begin offering the vaccine to childcare providers, teachers, government critical infrastructure workers, educators and grocery store workers. High risk persons under the age of 65 are slated to begin receiving the vaccine the first week of February. After these vulnerable populations are vaccinated, the general public will be able to receive the shots.

According to the most recent figures released last week, more than 16,000 persons in the District have received a COVID-19 vaccine. To receive informative texts or emails about the District of Columbia’s vaccination schedule, visit https://coronavirus.dc.gov/vaccinatedc. When it is time to receive the vaccine, register at https://coronavirus.dc.gov/vaccinatedc

Maryland, which also has a phased-in rollout of vaccinations, is currently offering the vaccine to health care workers, first responders, public safety and correctional institution officers and nursing home residents and staff, first responders, and public safety and corrections officers.

Later in January, the state is scheduled to being offering the vaccines to persons 75 years old and older, childcare providers, teachers, developmentally disabled persons, those living in special needs group homes, high-risk prison inmates and those whose jobs provide “continuity of government.”

In March, Maryland is slated to offer vaccines to persons over the age of 65 and essential workers, including grocery store, postal service and public transit employees and persons working in agriculture and manufacturing.

Last week, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said that after those populations are vaccinated, next on the list to get the shots are persons between the ages of 16 and 64 who have elevated health risks. He estimated that by May, about 30 percent of the state’s residents will have received the vaccine, but younger and healthier people may have to wait until after the summer to receive their vaccinations. He also said he would deploy members of the Maryland National Guard to help county health departments administer the vaccine.

As of Jan. 9, more than 100,000 Maryland residents have received a COVID vaccination. Residents can receive text updates about the vaccine by texting “MdReady” to 898-211. More information is also available at https://covidlink.maryland.gov/content/.

The two currently available COVID-19 vaccines – the Pfizer and the Moderna – are being made available free of charge, per federal law.

According to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ pro-life and doctrine committees, “Neither the Pfizer nor the Moderna vaccine involved the use of cell lines that originated in fetal tissue taken from the body of an aborted baby at any level of design, development, or production.”

However, those committees noted that both vaccines “are not completely free from any connection to abortion … as both Pfizer and Moderna made use of a tainted cell line for one of the confirmatory lab tests of their products. There is thus a connection, but it is relatively remote.”

“At the level of the recipient, it is morally permissible to accept vaccination when there are no alternatives and there is a serious risk to health,” those committees stressed.

That point was reiterated by the Maryland bishops, who said in their statement that “a Catholic can in good conscience receive these COVID-19 vaccines.” They also said it is “imperative that pharmaceutical companies be urged to develop vaccines that fully respect the dignity of the human person at all stages.”

Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two shots, administered between three and four weeks apart. The first shot helps the body recognize the virus and begin its immunization response and the second shot strengthens that response.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, after the administration of the second vaccine, it could take several weeks for a body to build up sufficient immunity to the virus. Also, while the vaccines are effective in preventing COVID-19 symptoms, it is uncertain whether a vaccinated person can still catch the virus or pass it on to others.

The CDC stressed that should people continue to follow preventative measures such as wearing a mask, washing hands frequently, practicing social distancing and staying home when sick.