Convention Center vaccine site reopens

Workers wait to register people Wednesday, Feb. 3, at a city-run clinic to administer second doses to people vaccinated by Philly Fighting COVID.
PHOTO: Jack Tomczuk

People vaccinated by Philly Fighting COVID returned Wednesday to the Pennsylvania Convention Center for their second doses, following a scandal that made headlines across the country over the city’s relationship with the group.

This time, the clinic was run by the Philadelphia Department of Public Health, which has come under scrutiny for how it vets vaccine providers and other partners.

Mayor Jim Kenney toured Wednesday’s clinic and said he was “extremely impressed” with its operation. He asked to see the site last week in a letter to Health Commissioner Thomas Farley about the PFC situation.

Kenney has backed Farley, and he blamed former President Donald Trump’s administration for not adequately supporting the vaccine roll-out.

“The issue was not being prepared at the federal level starting with PPE through vaccine availability,” he said. “There was certainly a mistake made with these guys, and they are gone.”

“I think that it’s unfair not to recognize all the good work the health department has done in this,” Kenney added.

Officials said the health department’s Convention Center clinic plans to inoculate 2,500 people by Saturday and an additional 4,400 next week.

PFC opened the clinic, the first mass vaccination location in the city, in early January, and they administered doses to about 6,900 people. The site was created to serve unaffiliated healthcare workers.

City leaders severed ties with PFC last week after questions arose about the start-up’s privacy policy and its quiet transition to a for-profit company. The organization also abruptly moved away from testing, cancelling some neighborhood events.

In addition, Andrei Doroshin, PFC’s 22-year-old CEO, has admitted to taking home leftover doses to inoculate his friends.

The health department has “no plans” to administer second doses to Doroshin or his friends, Farley said.

Investigators from the Philadelphia Inspector General’s office are looking into the partnership.

Farley said his department will continue to contract with nonprofits and other private groups to distribute the vaccine.

“It was always envisioned that there would be other organizations running mass clinics in addition to the clinics that are run by the health department,” he said.

Mayor Jim Kenney (right) speaks to reporters beside Health Commissioner Thomas Farley on Wednesday, Feb. 3, at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. PHOTO: Jack Tomczuk

City Council leaders are planning to introduce legislation Thursday that would strengthen oversight controls on the department and impose vaccine-related reporting measures.

“I don’t want to have anything to slow it down any further, which (it) seems that this potentially could,” Kenney said about the bill, adding that his administration is in talks with council.

Reporters were expecting to tour the Convention Center clinic with Kenney on Wednesday, but officials, citing patient privacy concerns, restricted them to viewing and photographing the site at a distance.

Staff greeted people as they arrived, registered them and directed them to one of 20 vaccine stations. After people were inoculated, they sat in rows of socially-distanced chairs for a 15-minute observation period.

In a separate area, workers mixed the vaccine and loaded syringes, Farley said.

Later this month, the city plans to begin running six vaccination clinics a week, half of which will be reserved for people receiving their second doses.

State officials said Wednesday that the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency is working on the logistics of operating community vaccine sites.

“We know that Pennsylvanians are ready for the vaccine, and we’re working on ways to increase access to vaccination,” said Lindsey Mauldin, a senior advisor for the state’s health department.

Mauldin also said she hopes President Joe Biden’s plan to send additional doses directly to pharmacies helps ramp up the state’s inoculation campaign.

In Pennsylvania and Philadelphia, which is handling vaccinations for city residents, those shipments will go to Rite Aids and Shoprites.

About 166,000 first doses were allocated to the state this week, Mauldin said, while the city is anticipating receiving 20,000 doses.

A combined 957,563 people had received at least one shot in Pennsylvania and Philadelphia through Wednesday.

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