Several City Council members and other community leaders called Wednesday for Philadelphia to launch a coronavirus vaccination site at the stadium complex, and sharply criticized Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration for its vaccine rollout.
“Philadelphia has fumbled a bit along the way in working to get vaccinations out to our residents,” Councilmember Allan Domb told reporters at the South Philadelphia complex. He said he has contacted local companies and organizations in an effort to propose a better vaccination plan.
It was the latest blow in the political fight between Kenney and City Council amid fallout over Philly Fighting COVID, the self-proclaimed group of “college kids” who ran a mass vaccination site for the city before the partnership collapsed and drew embarrassing national headlines.
Philadelphia Health Commissioner Thomas Farley has said the administration doesn’t support using sports arenas for vaccinations because it may attract residents of surrounding counties and states and wouldn’t advance the city’s goals of ensuring racial equity in vaccine distribution.
The authority to distribute vaccines to organizations and open testing sites lies solely with the Kenney administration.
Mike Dunn, an administration spokesperson, rejected Domb’s criticisms and said his stadium plan “would fully derail our efforts to achieve equity.”
“We ask Councilman Domb and other supporters this: Are you deliberately trying to ensure that white privileged suburban residents of other counties and states are prioritized for vaccination over Black and brown taxpayers of Philadelphia?” Dunn said.
Officials at Wednesday’s news conference argued that a site at Lincoln Financial Filed would be equitable, and that it would be possible to limit vaccinations to Philadelphians. As an example of how officials could confirm residency, former U.S. Rep. Bob Brady held up his own driver’s license and waved it.
The city could also invite people based on their zip code, Domb said. For those without cars, he said, SEPTA could provide express trains and buses.
Officials called the plan “Operation Philly Special,” a reference to the famous Eagles touchdown play in the Super Bowl.
”We can control whose getting vaccinated,” Domb said. “This is a good idea. Almost every other city is doing it.”
President Joe Biden has called for the use of NFL stadiums as vaccination sites, and several stadiums are already in use for vaccinations.
Farley currently opposes a mass site at Lincoln Financial Field because those at a high risk of being exposed, or people with underlying conditions, may not have the “ability or time to travel to the other side of the city to be vaccinated,” James Garrow, a Health Department’s spokesperson, said in a statement. Any identification requirements could become a barrier for undocumented immigrants in Philadelphia.
Farley hasn’t ruled out the use of the stadium site for vaccinations in the future, but said it could only be done once the vaccine is more widely available. He has instead focused on a neighborhood-based approach, and announced Tuesday that three sites will open Feb. 22 in or near Harrowgate, University City, and Sharswood.
Council has criticized the Kenney administration for working with Philly Fighting COVID. In the past week Council has introduced legislation that would give it more oversight of the vaccination contracting process and held a hearing to question officials about the partnership.
The Health Department cut ties with Philly Fighting COVID after The Inquirer raised questions about the group’s policy allowing it to sell personal data through a for-profit arm, and the deputy health commissioner resigned after records showed she gave it an unfair advantage in a city bidding process. The city’s inspector general has launched an investigation.
But lawmakers and others continue to express skepticism about the administration’s vaccine plans. Domb and Brady, the head of the city’s Democratic Party, said they have contacted local organizations, companies, and hospitals, and identified several potential sites for mass clinics. (Hospitals are already working as vaccine providers in partnership with the Health Department.)
“Everyone we have spoken to, everyone said ‘we want to help. What can we do to help?’ ” Domb said.
Domb said he also has the support of other community groups and would like the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium to oversee this effort. But Dunn noted Wednesday that the Black Doctors’ group supports the administration’s plans.
Councilmember Cindy Bass, who also attended Wednesday’s news conference, said she took personal offense to the administration’s response that the stadium plan wouldn’t advance racial equity goals.
“As an African American woman, born and raised in the city, I’ve lived racism every day. I don’t have the privilege that [Kenney] has in his skin,” Bass said. “For him to tell me about what I’m doing and it’s wrong for my people, I am highly insulted by his statement.”
The Kenney administration has been in touch with the Eagles about a potential vaccine site, Dunn said. But he declined to comment on the details of their discussions.
The Eagles now appear to be stuck in the middle of a political battle over whether to use Lincoln Financial Field. The team said in a statement that it has expressed interest to city and state officials.
”We will await further guidance,” a team spokesperson said, “but stand ready to help our community in any way possible to help ensure a safe and efficient vaccination process at our stadium.”