Philly’s FEMA vaccine sites close

Essential and public-facing workers receive their coronavirus vaccine at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia.
REUTERS/Hannah Beier

Military members who have been inoculating residents at Philadelphia’s two mass COVID-19 vaccination clinics have wrapped up their work and are heading home.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, which has been supporting operations at the Pennsylvania Convention Center and Esperanza, administered its last doses at those sites Tuesday afternoon.

Approximately 350,000 doses of the coronavirus vaccine were administered at the Pennsylvania Convention Center and Esperanza sites. REUTERS/Hannah Beier

Acting Health Commissioner Cheryl Bettigole said the city will continue operating scaled-down clinics at the sites, though they will not be open on a daily basis.

Anyone injected with the Pfizer-BioNTech shot there over the past two weeks will have their second dose appointment scheduled at the Convention Center or another city-run clinic, FEMA said.

At its height, more than 6,000 people a day were vaccinated at the Convention Center, which opened as a FEMA site in early March. Esperanza began administering vaccines April 9 at its Hunting Park campus.

Combined, the two locations distributed about 350,000 doses, or a quarter of the vaccines dispensed in Philadelphia, officials said.

However, as interest in the vaccine has waned, local leaders have increasingly stressed the importance of smaller, neighborhood clinics over mass sites to inoculate residents who may not be as eager to get the shot.

That became easier last week, when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said that vials of the Pfizer vaccine can be kept in normal refrigerators for up to 30 days.

Previous federal guidance allowed the vaccine, which requires ultra-cold freezers for longer-term storage, to be refrigerated for a maximum of five days.

“That is a game-changer,” Bettigole said Tuesday.

With the change, health officials will be able to direct more doses to primary care doctors and pediatricians. Bettigole said her team is planning to build a network of physicians who will have the capability to inoculate their patients.

More than 644,000 Philadelphians, or about 47% of the city’s population over the age of 10, are at least partially vaccinated, according to the health department.

Meanwhile, Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration remains on track to remove all pandemic-related capacity limitations June 11.

On Friday, restrictions were lifted on offices, museums, outdoor pools and bowling alleys, and restaurants could decrease table distancing from 6 to 3 feet and allow customers to purchase alcohol without food.

In addition, the city’s mask wearing mandate for outdoor events was lifted. The indoor mask requirement is tentatively set to expire June 11.

“We’re watching the numbers,” Bettigole said. “We’ll make a final decision the week of June 7. So far, numbers are trending in a good direction, but we’re going to keep an eye on those numbers.”

For the week of May 16, 2.2% of those who were tested for COVID-19 in Philadelphia had a positive result, and, over the past 14 days, the city has averaged 141 new cases a day.

Coronavirus hospitalizations, which stand at just over 200, have been stable, according to Bettigole.

Officials reported six virus-related deaths Tuesday, bringing Philadelphia’s pandemic toll to 3,621.

In another sign that the epidemic might be winding down, the city will no longer hold regularly-scheduled weekly COVID-19 updates.

Bettigole and her predecessor, Dr. Thomas Farley, had been holding frequent press briefings since the onset of the virus in March 2020.

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