The Federal Emergency Management Agency is in talks with Philadelphia to run a mass vaccination clinic at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, a City Council member said Friday.
The potential of FEMA coming to Philadelphia follows weeks of squabbling among local officials over the city’s vaccination efforts. Some Council members are pushing Mayor Jim Kenney to open a large clinic at Lincoln Financial Field after the collapse of the city’s partnership with Philly Fighting COVID, a start-up run by a self-described “bunch of college kids” that had been administering vaccines at the Convention Center until last month.
City Health Commissioner Thomas Farley briefed city, state, and federal elected officials from Philadelphia on the tentative FEMA plan Friday morning, said Councilmember Cindy Bass, who was on the call.
“I have confidence that FEMA, particularly under the Biden administration, has professionals that know what they’re doing,” Bass, who chairs the Public Health and Human Services Committee, said in an interview.
The city and FEMA haven’t finalized the plan, Bass said, and it’s unclear when the mass site would open. While vaccine supplies have so far been limited — Philadelphia this week received about 25,000 doses — the federal government has said there will be a surge in supplies in the coming months, creating a need for sites that can administer thousands of shots per day.
Kenney’s office confirmed the city is in talks with FEMA and the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency to launch “federally supported vaccination sites,” and that the Convention Center is one venue being discussed.
“No decisions have yet been made and we have nothing further to announce at this time,” Kenney spokesperson Mike Dunn said. “These conversations have been ongoing for several weeks and are not prompted by the push by other elected officials for a site in the far reaches of South Philadelphia.”
The city is currently using the Convention Center to administer second doses of the vaccine to people who received their first shots through Philly Fighting COVID before the city cut ties with the group.
FEMA has announced plans to run large clinics in California, Texas, and New York in pilot programs that could expand to cities across the country. Sites for those clinics include NRG Stadium in Houston, the Oakland Coliseum, and Yankee Stadium in New York City.
“FEMA is working with state and local governments across the nation to identify locations where we can support vaccination centers and equitable vaccine distribution,” FEMA spokesperson Gabriel Lugo said in a statement. “As part of this process we are currently working with Pennsylvania and Philadelphia officials to identify potential locations.”
President Joe Biden has said he wants vaccination clinics at NFL stadiums, but Kenney has been staunchly opposed to using the Eagles’ home. His administration says the stadium’s location deep in South Philadelphia and close to interstate highways could allow non-Philadelphians to access the city’s supplies and worsen racial inequities in vaccine distribution.
To reach people who are eligible for the vaccine but don’t work in the health-care industry, the city so far is focusing on neighborhood-based clinics, but Farley has said the administration is open to larger sites as more supplies become available.
Kenney’s stance could mean Philadelphia is one of the only cities with an NFL team to instead use an indoor venue as its federally managed vaccine site, said former U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, who has spoken with FEMA officials about the plan. Some cities without large stadiums are using convention centers for mass clinics, and New York City is using both indoor and outdoor venues.
FEMA has provided guidance for local jurisdictions to open vaccination sites at both indoor and outdoor locations, Dunn noted.
Staff writer Laura McCrystal contributed to this article.