“It looked like maybe Ward 3 was being punished for being more computer savvy,” said Mary Cheh, a city council member representing the ward, where houses in neighborhoods near American University or the Potomac River routinely sell for more than $2 million. “I was inundated with emails from people who were just really angry about it.”

The day after the policy change, Ms. Cheh wrote to her constituents, citing the data about the shots and saying that “our anxiety to get one right away should not cloud the pursuit of equitable vaccine distribution.”

“When I sent out that note, people said, ‘Oh thank you, I understand now,’” Ms. Cheh said. Still, she called the city’s new system “a very blunt instrument,” and said it would be fairer to base need on an individual’s risk, not an entire neighborhood’s.

Adora Iris Lee, 70, lives in one of Washington’s priority neighborhoods — Congress Heights, part of Ward 8 in the district’s southern area, which is heavily Black and has had the highest number of Covid deaths. She said she still had spent more than three hours on hold, but obtained appointments for herself and her mother, who is 93.

“Being able to call at a time that was designated for us — I felt good about that,” Ms. Lee said. “People who live in Ward 3 and people who live in Ward 8, they’ve got different social realities. This is no joke for us.”

Still, Mr. Jones, of Bread for the City, said that even with the new system, hardly any of the people coming for shots at his clinic were its regular patients. The clinic started reaching out to its regulars and, with the city’s permission, reserved all its first doses for them and for clients of other social service organizations last week.

“It’s not just a case of preserving the spots for people,” Mr. Jones said. “Somehow we’ve got to persuade them to use those spots.”



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