Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

City Council wants answers as questions build over Philly Fighting COVID partnership, handling of vaccines

The city said the group failed to promptly disclose its switch to a for-profit business and its privacy policy outlined ways personal information given by residents could be sold.

Empty lines where people would enter and wait to be vaccinated for COVID-19 with Philly Fighting COVID at the Philadelphia Convention Center on Tuesday. The city has ended partnership with Philly Fighting COVID.
Empty lines where people would enter and wait to be vaccinated for COVID-19 with Philly Fighting COVID at the Philadelphia Convention Center on Tuesday. The city has ended partnership with Philly Fighting COVID.Read moreTYGER WILLIAMS / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
  1. What you should know

  2. The City of Philadelphia has ended its partnership with Philly Fighting COVID. The city “strongly recommends” that residents interested in receiving the vaccine register with the city’s portal.

  3. Those who received the first of the two-shot vaccine through Philly Fighting COVID will be contacted by the city to set up another vaccine appointment on schedule.

Philadelphia City Council members are demanding answers from city officials as questions build over their soured partnership with Philly Fighting COVID, a self-described “group of college kids” responsible until this week for managing the city’s largest coronavirus mass vaccination site.

Councilmember Cindy Bass said her office drafted a resolution for a public hearing Tuesday, the day after the city announced it was ending the partnership and as new allegations rose about the group founder’s handling of vaccines. The termination followed what the city described as the group’s failure to promptly disclose its switch to a for-profit business. The city also said the group’s privacy policy outlined ways personal information residents entered into the preregistration portal could be sold.

“It is just very disturbing, very troubling, and we need answers,” said Bass, who was with Mayor Jim Kenney and other city officials at the opening of Philly Fighting COVID’s mass vaccination site at the Pennsylvania Convention Center on Jan. 8. The city initially encouraged residents to pre-commit to getting vaccinated through Philly Fighting COVID’s form, before distancing from the group and creating a separate city-run registration website.

Bass said she plans to introduce the resolution, cosponsored by eight councilmembers, on Thursday. It calls for the public health and human services committee “to hold hearings to investigate the City’s vaccine contracting process, including an examination of Philly Fighting COVID’s contract with the City.”

While the city and Philly Fighting COVID had a contract agreement over data usage for testing, no contract existed surrounding the vaccination effort, Philadelphia Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said during a news conference Tuesday. “There was no money exchanged for them to run this clinic,” he said. “This was done on a voluntary basis.”

Farley said the city decided to sever ties after an Inquirer reporter asked about the switch to for-profit status and privacy policy language. Those developments came to light, he said, as questions percolated surrounding Philly Fighting COVID’s decision to cease coronavirus testing, as first reported by WHYY.

“We didn’t feel at that point, this was truly a trustworthy organization,” Farley said. “And up until that time they had vaccinated a lot of people, and so there was a lot of good that came out of that.”

» READ MORE: City drops Philly Fighting COVID as vaccination partner after it failed to disclose for-profit arm

Philly Fighting COVID, which has vaccinated about 7,000 people, has emphasized it has no intention of selling the data. Farley said the city is “working with a law department to see if there’s any way to make sure that that doesn’t happen.”

In a statement Tuesday, Attorney General Josh Shapiro said his office is in touch with the city regarding allegations against Philly Fighting COVID and encouraged “any consumers who believe they have been misled should file a complaint with our office.” District Attorney Larry Krasner also called the group’s methods “concerning” and urged those with information to contact the Special Investigations Unit.

Andrei Doroshin, the group’s CEO, has called the city’s claims “frankly untrue,” and maintains the organization never intended to sell anyone’s data. Doroshin said Tuesday that he has been asking the city to reconsider its decision. “We just want to help people. … I have a team that is versed in doing the best clinic in the world. And why can’t we deploy them?”

Council’s call for answers also follows allegations of the organization’s potential mishandling of vaccines.

Katrina Lipinsky, 29, a registered nurse-practitioner who volunteered with Philly Fighting COVID twice, said she was not asked to show her medical license or documentation verifying her health-care qualifications before she began vaccinating people at the Pennsylvania Convention Center on Jan. 16. She eventually provided it Jan. 20, after asking if it was required.

While working at the Convention Center, Lipinsky said she observed nonqualified people getting vaccinated on Jan. 16 and a large number of canceled appointments on Jan. 23. She also said staff members told volunteers on Jan. 23 that because they had many leftover vaccines, they could text or call friends and family to come receive a dose.

Shortly after, she said, she saw Doroshin pack about 10 unused vaccine doses into a clear plastic bag, then put them into his bag before leaving.

“I felt very uncomfortable,” she said. “To watch the CEO of a now for-profit company take vaccines off site, somebody who doesn’t have a medical license of any sort?”

» READ MORE: Where can I get a COVID-19 vaccine in the Philly area? Use our lookup tool.

It’s unclear what Doroshin did with the vaccines after leaving the site. He declined to comment on the matter Tuesday.

Lipinsky said she alerted Philly Fighting COVID’s chief of medical staff and he said that “it was OK,” because the Philadelphia Department of Public Health didn’t want to see any doses wasted.

Daniel Naveiro, chief of medical staff listed on Philly Fighting COVID’s website, could not be reached for comment Tuesday evening.

“If that’s true, that’s very disturbing,” Farley said. “We’re going to try to do what we can to find out if there were any missing doses.”

After ending the partnership, the city rushed to assure those scheduled to receive doses with the group that they would still be immunized. Farley said Tuesday that the city plans to run clinics to provide the vaccine in Philly Fighting COVID’s absence, potentially working with a health-care provider, another organization, or volunteer or contract nurses.

When asked why the city didn’t initially partner with Penn, Temple, or another medical powerhouse for the vaccine rollout, Farley said he wasn’t sure whether the organizations would have agreed to help when they were already tasked with vaccinating their own staff.

“In retrospect, I wish we hadn’t worked with Philly Fighting COVID,” he said. However, Farley said the fractured partnership “will not overall slow down our vaccination process,” adding that the city is limited by the number of vaccine doses it has, not by the number of people who can administer it.

Councilmember Bobby Henon, who also attended the opening of the vaccination site, said he’s been impressed with the group’s work.

“I believe that Philly Fighting COVID did a good job for the Health Department vaccinating Philadelphians,” Henon said Tuesday. “It’s kind of odd that they are in this position when they were doing such a good job, and I hope it gets worked out.”

Bass feels differently. When she attended the opening, she assumed it was run by the city. Only later did she realize an outside group was running it.

“The city was duped,” Bass said.

Clarification: A previous version of this article incorrectly described how vaccination clinic volunteers were told about leftover vaccines.

Staff writer Juliana Feliciano Reyes contributed to this article.