Citing the need to get the COVID-19 vaccine to the communities hardest hit by the virus, the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium will enforce stricter rules at their clinics, the group’s founder, physician Ala Stanford, said Wednesday. People who are not at increased risk of serious illness or death — including some who don’t even live in the communities where the clinics are opening — have been coming to her clinics, she said, which means less vaccine is going to those who need it most.
“It’s just the wrong thing to do, to come to communities and take it away from folks [in communities] where one in two people have known someone with severe disease, or someone who died from COVID,” Stanford told reporters at a news conference called to announce the changes. “So please, stop doing this. And if you can’t stop, we’re going to help you, because we’re going to be much more stringent.”
The group will halt sign-ups for its vaccination clinics until it has served a backlog of 46,000 people who registered with the group. Going forward, people who come to Black Doctors’ vaccination sites must prove they live in Philadelphia.
Philadelphians over age 75 will be able to get vaccinated at Black Doctors’ sites. Younger people will have to prove they have a high-risk condition included in the city’s 1B vaccination group. Those under 75 will also have to prove they live in a zip code where hospitalizations and deaths have been the highest in the city.
Those who have gotten their first dose from the consortium will receive their second dose, Stanford said.
After the group is done vaccinating the 46,000 preregistered clients — probably by the first week of March, Stanford said — vaccination clinics will operate on a first-come, first-served basis, registering patients on-site to accommodate people without access to a phone or computer.
“That’s the only fair way to do it,” Stanford said. “There’s so many people that don’t have access to a computer or access to a phone.”
Black Americans are more likely than other groups to catch the disease, develop serious complications, or die.
But in recent weeks, the physicians group — which has been running testing sites in Black communities for nearly a year — has seen their vaccination client demographic shift, from 90% Black to only 50% Black.
”If you take vaccines from communities where it’s spreading the most, you’re hurting yourself. We’re not going to get to herd immunity any faster — we’re going to be in this situation even longer,” Stanford said.
Stanford said she’d been spurred to tighten criteria around her group’s clinics after reading news reports from around the country about affluent people traveling to poorer communities to claim scarce doses of the COVID-19 vaccine — and seeing similar scenarios play out at her own clinics.
Some people coming to consortium clinics outside their own neighborhoods may simply be turning to one of the most visible organizations still handing out vaccines in the wake of the city’s disastrous, now-scuppered partnership with Philly Fighting COVID, Stanford said.
Others, she said, may be misrepresenting where they live or what medical conditions make them eligible for the vaccine.
Stanford had also been concerned that people in poorer Black neighborhoods, especially those without access to technology, were being shunted aside by white Philadelphians with more time and easier transportation to the sites.
She said she’d been struck by a pair of Black sisters, both over 75, who had come to a clinic in North Philadelphia hoping to get a vaccine. The older sister, in her 80s, had asked if it was OK for her to get a vaccine, even though she had been unable to access the consortium’s website.
“They’re pausing to ask if they’re OK,” she said. “And folks that drove up from West Philly and Center City are demanding that they get vaccinated. When is this mess going to stop?”