Elected leaders, including several members of City Council, on Wednesday called on Mayor Jim Kenney to utilize Lincoln Financial Field as a mass coronavirus vaccination site.
Kenney’s administration strongly rebuked the effort, saying the lawmakers’ plan would prioritize “white privileged suburban residents of other counties and states” over people of color in Philadelphia.
“That is kind of an insulting comment to make,” retorted Councilman Allan Domb, who is leading the stadium campaign along with former Congressman and Democratic power broker Bob Brady.
The differing approaches exemplify an increased frustration with and criticism of the city’s vaccine roll-out in the aftermath of the Philly Fighting COVID debacle.
Domb and Brady, during a news conference at the South Philadelphia sports complex, said they have been reaching out to potential partners for the last few weeks about the proposal, dubbed “Operation Philly Special” after the famous play that helped the Eagles win the Super Bowl in 2018.
Massive vaccination sites will be critical once the city begins receiving more doses, they argued.
Philadelphia’s allocation from the federal government received a modest bump this week, and larger shipments could be on the way if the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is approved later this month.
“Mayor Kenney has a plan for right now, but what we need going forward, in the future, is a mass vaccination plan that enables us to vaccinate upwards of 5,000 people per day at one location,” Domb said.
An Eagles spokesperson said the team “stands ready” to offer its stadium to the city for vaccinations.
Kenney and Philadelphia Health Commissioner Thomas Farley have said a site at the sports complex would be difficult to access for residents without cars and draw people from New Jersey, Delaware and the surrounding suburbs.
On Tuesday, officials said facilities in North Philadelphia, West Philadelphia and Harrowgate had been chosen as the first locations for city-run clinics that will begin operating the week of Feb. 22. Farley has said those sites will vaccinate about 500 people a day.
“It is frankly disheartening that some members of Council, who have rightly advocated for equity in vaccinations, would support a proposal that would fully derail our efforts to achieve equity,” Kenney spokesman Mike Dunn said in a statement.
He said the mayor’s plan puts the emphasis on administering injections at locations close to where Black and brown residents live.
Former Mayor John Street, who also backs the stadium plan, accused Kenney of using race as a distraction, and Domb said he envisions the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium running the mass clinic.
Supporters of the proposal also pointed to the Broad Street Line station near the stadiums and said they are in talks to arrange shuttles for people who have difficulty walking.
Brady pulled out his driver’s license, explaining that it would be easy to check the residency of those who register for a shot.
“I also told (Farley), there’s such a thing as an ID,” Brady said. “You have to show an ID to get a vaccination, no matter where you go.”
Councilman Mark Squilla noted that the city has already vaccinated healthcare workers from outside Philadelphia, and officials plan to inoculate teachers regardless of their address.
“We don’t need excuses,” he added. “We don’t need people saying why we can’t do something.”
Councilmembers Cindy Bass, Katherine Gilmore Richardson and Derek Green also spoke up in favor of the plan.
Many other cities have begun utilizing arenas, and the NFL has offered up all of its stadiums as vaccination sites. President Joe Biden signaled support for the idea during CBS’ Super Bowl pregame show on Sunday.
“I do have a title by the way. My title is ‘Friend of Joe,’ and he is my friend,” said Brady, who suggested he could show Biden the proposal and possibly score more doses for Philadelphia.
Brady and Domb said they contacted Kenney on Tuesday to invite him to the announcement and had previously spoken to him about the idea.
‘The mayor doesn’t talk to certain people. Mayor, you can’t not talk to people about this,” Street said. “Blood will be on your shoulders.”
To staff a possible clinic at Lincoln Financial Field, Domb said they planned to ask Gov. Tom Wolf to deploy the Pennsylvania National Guard to the city.
The group said it wants to help establish other mass vaccination sites, and they indicated they already have another potential location at the Mann Center in West Philadelphia.