In November, Andrei Doroshin, 22, confidently introduced himself to City Council members as the person they could count on to run a massive injection site that would quickly get the coronavirus vaccine into the arms of thousands of Philadelphians.
At a meeting of Council’s committee on public health and human services centering on vaccines, Doroshin shared his vision for how Philly Fighting COVID could activate a crucial public-health project, one that would require hundreds of people and millions of dollars.
“Everybody is going to want to get a vaccine,” the Drexel University graduate student told the committee, “and it’s going to be a huge problem.”
The Nov. 19 meeting was framed as an informational meeting for council members to hear updates on the city’s vaccine-distribution preparedness from members of the Health Department’s Vaccine Advisory Committee, which included medical professionals and community leaders.
Doroshin, who was a member of that group, asked for the committee’s assistance, and guidance. Already, his group had budgeted $2.7 million to construct five sites that would handle 10,000 patients a day. In previous interviews, Doroshin has said he funded Philly Fighting COVID with his personal finances and donations.
He told council his group had begun training staff, implementing a plan to hire about 500 people in 60 days, bringing on educators, and launching a marketing campaign in line with city planning.
During that meeting, no council member pressed Doroshin about his group’s health-care qualifications.
For about 10 minutes on a video call, Doroshin assured council members that his group, which consisted of himself and college friends, was up to handling one of the most crucial city responses to the pandemic. Two months later, it has all fallen apart as the city has severed ties with the organization.
Councilmember Bobby Henon, vice chair of the committee, said he was aware of Doroshin through his company’s work running coronavirus testing sites and viewed the group as a trusted partner.
He said he viewed the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium similarly, as the group had also been testing the community and Dr. Ala Stanford, a pediatric surgeon who founded the group, also spoke at the November meeting.
“They already had a history of COVID testing Philadelphians so they had somewhat of an infrastructure,” Henon said on Wednesday, referring to both groups. “I was always under the impression that those two groups had significant influence as a partner working with the Health Department to help support vaccinating the entire city. I never questioned either one of them.”
Councilmember Isaiah Thomas remembers watching the testimony about Philly Fighting COVID and thinking it seemed more like a “pitch” of the organization, rather than offering expert testimony.
“He didn’t come off to us as the experts who we needed to be inquisitive towards to galvanize for information,” Thomas said about Doroshin. He called the partnership “a huge mistake.”
At the time of the November council meeting, Philly Fighting COVID was known for having run coronavirus testing sites through a city contract for months, and Doroshin landed a spot on the city’s Vaccine Advisory Committee. He has since been removed from the committee.
“We did the job and what we promised. The only thing that got in the way was city politics,” Doroshin said in a text message. “We did what we said we would. After that, why do my credentials matter?”
James Mussalem, who had been listed as the group’s chief of staff earlier this week, told The Inquirer that Philly Fighting COVID will hold a news conference on Friday.
Documents obtained by The Inquirer show the Kenney administration awarded more than $190,000 to Philly Fighting COVID. Doroshin provided The Inquirer with copies of the contract and applications. The Inquirer requested this information through a public records request to the city last week that has gone unfilled. A Health Department spokesperson confirmed it ultimately authorized more than $111,000 in invoiced charges for testing services by Philly Fighting COVID. The city has not awarded the group any funding for vaccinations.
“Philly Fighting COVID was created to help low-income communities with access to free medical care and testing,” he said during the November committee meeting. “I was called here to discuss the administration of this vaccine.”
Henon asked Doroshin about logistics. Doroshin assured Henon that his group was aiming to get people vaccinated at sites where they are “in and out within a matter of minutes.”
The only other pushback he heard was from Councilmember Helen Gym, who asked him not to interrupt Dr. PJ Brennan, the chief medical officer for Penn Medicine.
It is unclear if Doroshin had plans, at the time of the meeting, to drop Philly Fighting COVID’s nonprofit status. Three weeks later, Doroshin’s for-profit arm, Vax Populi, a privately held corporation, was established with the state.
A recent application for a contract to administer vaccines shows how Philly Fighting COVID was planning on rebranding itself as Vax Populi — a for-profit company solely focused on vaccines — and leveraging its past relationship with the city through testing and creating face shields for health-care workers.
This month, the Health Department, along with other city officials, steered Philadelphians to Philly Fighting COVID’s vaccine preregistration website, encouraging people to “Pre-Commit to Getting Vaccinated.” On the site, users were asked to fill out a form with their date of birth, cell phone number, occupation, race, ethnicity, number of people in their household, and medical conditions that may increase the severity of the virus. The site said it would contact them once they were eligible for a vaccine.
By Jan. 8, the group was running the city’s mass vaccination site at the Convention Center and Doroshin has said the group gave first doses of the vaccine to nearly 7,000 people.
The Philadelphia City Council seal was originally included on Philly Fighting COVID’s website. However, the group “was never authorized” to use the seal, City Council President Darrell L. Clarke’s spokesperson Joe Grace told The Inquirer earlier this week.
It was removed last week at Council’s request.