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Philadelphia health commissioner says it was a ‘mistake’ to engage with embattled group in vaccine operations


More than a week after Philadelphia cut ties with a Covid-19 testing and vaccine provider, Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley testified that it was a “mistake” to allow Philly Fighting Covid (PFC) to operate vaccine clinics.

“While this organization did successfully vaccinate some 6,900 people, in retrospect it was a mistake for the Department of Public Health to ask the organization to operate these clinics. As the person in charge of the Department of Public Health, I bear the ultimate responsibility for that mistake,” Farley said Friday in prepared remarks at a city council meeting.

The city severed its ties with PFC amid reports the non-profit shifted to a for-profit entity. There were also concerns over PFC’s patient data collection and protection practices.

PFC CEO Andrei Doroshin said shortly after the break with Philadelphia that he never hid the group’s intentions to transition to a for-profit business.

“Vaccinating large groups of people takes resources, manpower, and ultimately financial help…We have always intended on scaling up the number of clinics to eventually vaccinate more people (we have been working for months on plans to scale-up vaccinations and have shared them with the city) and money is needed to do that,” he said in a statement.

Doroshin told CNN affiliate KYW he felt he was being used as a “scapegoat” for difficulties with vaccine distribution.

“The city needs a scapegoat for why they botched the vaccine effort,” Doroshin told KYW. “They probably think they’re embarrassed because a 22-year-old did a better job than they did.”

At the time PFC was engaged to operate vaccine clinics at the Philadelphia Convention Center, the organization met all of the standards met by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Farley said on Friday.

The process by which the city’s vaccine distribution group chose PFC to manage vaccine clinics is now under investigation by city’s Inspector General, Farley said, adding that the investigation has precluded him from asking questions of the staff involved.

“The Inspector General has asked that I not question or request documents from the staff persons involved, which might interfere with his investigation,” Farley said. “I am eager for the Inspector General’s complete review to answer my own questions of how this decision was made.”

Farley announces operational reforms, admits racial equity concerns

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney previously issued a letter to Farley directing the health department to produce a report on the failed partnership with PFC, among other directives.

In response to the letter, Farley testified Friday that the health department has reorganized its vaccine distribution group, as well as scheduled and operated clinics to provide second doses to everyone who received their first dose through PFC.

Farley said the department has also added a lead staff person for racial equity to “strengthen the racial equity emphasis of the vaccine distribution initiative,” allocated additional vaccine doses to the Black Doctors Covid-19 Consortium, and has made additional plans to reach underserved communities.

The Philadelphia City Council said in a statement Saturday that they have introduced legislation to address “deficiencies in how the city Health Department allowed an unqualified group of non-public health professionals gain access to thousands of doses of COVID-19 vaccine for distribution to city residents,” including the introduction of contract requirements before any vaccine distribution takes place.

Farley also addressed racial disparities in the city’s vaccine distribution effort thus far, saying that “that the objective of achieving racial equity must be built into all decisions” regarding vaccinations.

“If we were to allow anyone to receive vaccine, we would deliver doses very quickly, but the persons receiving them would likely be the most privileged, with the most resources to get to the front of the line,” Farley said.

“If we were to maintain extremely tight restrictions on persons meeting eligibility criteria by demanding extensive documentation, we would slow down the rate of vaccination. And either of those would likely reduce the number of African American and minority persons who get vaccinated. We will continue to work hard to achieve the right balance of these objectives,” Farley added.

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