In snow and below-freezing temperatures, hundreds of Philadelphians desperate to get the coronavirus vaccine waited in an hours-long line at the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium’s 24-hour, walk-up clinic in North Philadelphia on Friday.
The lines outside Temple University’s Liacouras Center spanned multiple blocks, wrapping around the building and then some. Residents who arrived as early as 9 a.m. had yet to make it inside the building at 4:15 p.m. Around 6:30 p.m., there were 1,200 people in line, and those joining at the end were expected to have to wait upward of 10 hours. People sat in lawn chairs and wrapped themselves in blankets, struggling to keep warm on the damp and frigid February day.
Y. Jones, a 50-year-old with diabetes and heart disease, arrived at 9 a.m. and joined the walk-up line when it had only reached the corners of Broad Street and Cecil B. Moore Avenue. Still outside the building at 4 p.m., she said she hadn’t eaten, and struggled to find somewhere to use the bathroom.
”I’m grateful this is being made available to people but they need to make facilities available,” she said. “My hands are numb. My feet are numb. It’s way too cold for people to be out in this weather waiting for hours and hours.”
The consortium is hosting the city’s first 24-hour, walk-up vaccination clinic open to Philadelphians who qualify under the city’s 1B vaccination category and who live in zip codes identified by the organization as “hardest hit” by the coronavirus. It is also open to anyone over age 75. The 1B category includes people with certain medical conditions, as well as some essential workers like teachers, first responders, and food-service employees.
The goal heading into the weekend was to vaccinate at least 2,000 people. Shortly after 6:30 p.m., the group had vaccinated about 1,000 people, according to consortium founder Dr. Ala Stanford. The group, which planned to continue vaccinating people through noon Saturday, had a total of 3,300 doses to give out.
“I expected a lot. I don’t know that I expected this,” Stanford said of the turnout. If there are more people in line than available doses, the organization will let those people know, she said, adding that the hundreds of people enduring an hours-long wait in the cold shows “how great the need is.”
After worrying about the elderly, some relying on oxygen tanks and walkers, waiting for so long outside, Stanford said staff started bringing seniors inside the stadium for safety.
The goal of the mass vaccination event was to chip away at the vast racial disparities that have marked Philadelphia’s vaccine rollout. While more than 40% of Philadelphians are Black, they have made up 20% of the 164,000 people who had been at least partially vaccinated as of Friday morning, according to city data. Black Americans are more likely to be hospitalized and die of COVID-19.
A spokesperson for the city’s Health Department thanked the group for “trying the walk-up approach,” saying it was the first clinic in the city to have done so.
“It is a great effort designed specifically to achieve more equity in vaccine distribution,” department spokesperson James Garrow said. “We will work with them afterwards to see what adjustments might be needed and continue to support the efforts of the BDCC.”
Aesha Morris, 43, a home health worker who arrived at the Liacouras Center at 9 a.m., said she took the day off work once she realized the line was moving so slowly. She made it inside the center around 4 p.m.
Still, Morris and Jones said the wait would be worth it.
”How else we gonna get back to normal?” said Morris, of the city’s Overbrook section. “We don’t really have a choice.”
The line for individuals who had preregistered with the consortium last month appeared to be moving faster. Lonzo and Michelle Carter of West Oak Lane arrived at 3 p.m. and said they would wait “as long as it takes.”
People at the back of line, which wrapped all the way around the Temple University building, seemed to have little idea of how long it would take to reach the front.
Deborah Garlington, 68, and Casselda Johnson, 62, joined the walk-up line around 6 p.m. and said they would wait as long as it took to get inside. The Germantown sisters said they stopped by the center around 10:30 a.m., saw the massive line, and decided to leave. They returned with warmer clothes — Garlington sporting a fashionable fur coat and hat — and full stomachs, prepared to wait for hours for the coveted vaccine.
Those who received their first doses at this clinic will be able to get second doses March 23 at Deliverance Evangelistic Church at 2001 W. Lehigh Ave.
Stanford advised people in line to dress warm, eat and “be patient.” If the organization runs low on doses later in the night, Stanford said she would try to ask the city for more vaccines.
“Once you get here,” she said, “we will take care of you.”
Staff writers Anna Orso and Ellie Silverman contributed to this article.