The federal government plans to open a mass coronavirus vaccination clinic in Philadelphia next month, boosting the number of shots administered in the region by an expected 6,000 doses a day, White House officials said Friday.
Though officials said the site at the Pennsylvania Convention Center could open as soon as March 3, left unresolved was whether it would be only for city residents, and, if not, who would be eligible for shots. Philadelphia Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said such details were still being worked out.
But an additional 6,000 doses a day could significantly boost vaccinations in the city, which has been getting 25,000 first doses each week.
The proposed clinic is part of a national effort by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to bring the coronavirus vaccine to more people after weeks of sharply limited supply.
“Every city in the country, including Philadelphia, is currently struggling with not having enough COVID vaccine to meet the demand of their residents, so this center will make a huge difference,” said Mayor Jim Kenney.
The high demand for the vaccine was evident Friday outside Temple University’s Liacouras Center, where the city’s first drop-in vaccination clinic, run by the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium, drew a line that wrapped around multiple blocks as people waited for hours in the cold. At 7 p.m., with 1,200 people already in line, new arrivals expected to wait hours for their shots.
Others across the region were facing the prospect of rescheduled appointments as winter storms delayed vaccine shipments to Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
But there was also good news: New Jersey announced $1.2 billion in new funding for schools from the latest round of federal relief funds, including millions for costs associated with pandemic-related learning loss and mental health issues.
Philadelphia teachers began scheduling appointments for their vaccinations, which will begin Monday. And city officials said all 29,000 residents 75 and older who had signed up on the city’s preregistration site have received information inviting them to make vaccine appointments at pharmacies.
The city will send invitations again to people who don’t make one or can’t get a slot. Residents who have not yet signed up on the city’s vaccination registration site can still do so. Those without internet access can call 311, Farley said, and staff will assist them.
Farley told a City Council committee Friday that only about 53% of coronavirus vaccines distributed in Philadelphia have gone to city residents, mainly because many municipal workers who have received the vaccine live outside Philadelphia. That proportion was “too low,” he said, but should rise once the city finishes inoculating essential workers.
Farley also said the share of vaccine going to Black residents remains too low: About 20% of people vaccinated in Philadelphia as of Friday are Black. The city’s population is 40% Black.
An analysis of vaccinations by zip code found that low-income areas have the lowest vaccination numbers, Farley said, including neighborhoods in North and Northeast Philadelphia. He said the city is working with federally qualified health centers, which provide no-cost primary care to low-income residents and often serve immigrants or residents with limited English proficiency, to address racial equity and vaccine hesitancy. Their clinics collectively administered about 5,000 shots last week, he said.
“We know we’re not reflective of the city’s population right now,” he said.
FEMA coming to Phila.
The news of the Convention Center clinic comes as vaccine distribution is expected to accelerate after President Joe Biden’s announcement that the U.S. had purchased 200 million more doses and as new vaccines become available.
The city also may be able to work with FEMA to open more sites, Jim Engler, Kenney’s chief of staff, told the Council committee Friday. He declined to speculate on other potential locations, including whether one could be Lincoln Financial Field, as some council members have proposed.
FEMA staff members have been in Philadelphia for more than a week working on details, said City Managing Director Tumar Alexander. Federal employees will staff the site for the most part, and the city will provide appointment scheduling via online registration and take care of other logistics, Farley said.
“A lot of detail is yet to be worked out, but as one piece of this much larger approach, it’s a great addition to the city,” Farley said at the committee hearing.
Still, it was not yet clear who would be eligible for the clinic, and if it would follow the city’s eligibility rules, which allow people 75 and older to get the shot, or use the state’s rules, which open it to people 65 and up.
Andy Slavitt, a White House senior adviser on COVID-19, said the site’s selection was based on a framework developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Federal Drug Administration to target populations most vulnerable to the virus.
The Convention Center, at 11th and Arch Streets, is centrally located and easily accessible by public transit; the city is also working on plans including offering discounted or “somewhat free” parking opportunities.
City Council members have criticized the mayor’s insistence on an indoor venue rather than the stadium parking lot in South Philadelphia. Kenney, however, has said placing the clinic on the edge of the city could lure more suburban and out-of-state residents, potentially exacerbating racial inequalities in vaccine distribution.
“We are obviously looking for two things as we select these sites,” Slavitt told reporters Friday. “The first is how can we get more people vaccinated more quickly. And the second is how can we get more people vaccinated more equitably. Those are really the two most important criteria.”
Nationwide, this week’s winter weather delayed the delivery of about 6 million doses, according to the White House. The doses are being kept in factories and hubs across the country, and most are expected to be delivered in the next week, Slavitt said Friday.
In Philadelphia, Farley said Thursday’s snowstorm delayed some vaccine deliveries and closed some clinics. And as Pennsylvania works to dig itself out from a massive second-dose shortage, which threatens to delay first- and second-dose shots for as many as 100,000 people, the weather-related delays will cause even more appointments to be rescheduled, Pennsylvania Acting Secretary of Health Alison Beam said Friday.
“It’s too early to know which vaccine providers are being affected by these weather-related delays,” Beam said in a statement.
In New Jersey, about 230,000 vaccine doses have been delayed and the snowstorm also forced appointments to be rescheduled, said Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli. State health officials expect to receive some by Saturday, Persichilli said, and Gov. Phil Murphy said sites will extend hours and “ramp up operations” to catch up once the doses arrive.
“I assure you that everyone will be rescheduled,” Persichilli said. “I understand the frustration.”
Staff writers Ellie Rushing, Rob Tornoe, and Erin McCarthy contributed to this article.