The city’s unilateral cancellation of this partnership has left thousands of health-care personnel waiting on their second dose in limbo, confused and angered residents, and eroded trust in the city’s ability to execute a mass vaccination campaign.
Unfortunately, the PFC debacle is a natural consequence of the city’s continued abdication of basic duties to residents, community groups, and nonprofit partners. This is a model of government that exacerbates existing inequities of city neighborhoods, with well-resourced neighborhoods able to meet the shortfall of services and underresourced neighborhoods suffering the consequences.
As a former government official, I understand the challenges the city faces in coordinating and delivering services. While resources are limited, the number of worthy and important causes is not.
Nonetheless, the city’s failure in ceding its leadership role around vaccination coordination to a phalanx of independent organizations was an egregious breach of its most important duty: protecting public health. The Health Department should have been the “tip of the spear” in coordinating the vaccination effort. By failing to initially lead in this area, the city created a vacuum amid a crisis. This vacuum was filled by “a bunch of, like, college kids trying to help out.” This lack of leadership from the city forced people to rely on a highly questionable partner and may have exposed issues related to the use and disclosure of private health information and the ongoing potential lack of safeguarding under federal health information privacy laws.
There are numerous reasons why the city should have built a centralized vaccination registration portal and implemented a safe and legal process to share protected health information with partner organizations. From a logistical standpoint, having a single sign-up would better help the city and medical providers track and manage demand for the vaccine. Instead, the failure to centralize registration created a free-for-all, with each organization maintaining its own database with individuals signing up with multiple organizations, confusing residents, duplicating data, siloing information, and skewing demand.
Lastly, the city has undermined its ability to deliver on its promise of the equitable rollout of vaccines. One of the biggest challenges it will face in achieving an equitable vaccination process is closing the trust gap of Black and brown communities who are justifiably distressed and have suffered a long history of medical mistreatment and inequity in health care. The city’s failure to properly vet and oversee one of its main partners further erodes the trust of our communities and makes an equitable vaccination program even more difficult to achieve.
So yes, be mad at Doroshin and Philly Fighting COVID for trying to profit off a pandemic, but recognize the role of our government in creating the opportunity for them to do so. We’ve known for over six months that a vaccine was being fast-tracked. Rarely is the government afforded such a long runway to build and execute a crisis response plan. I’m left flabbergasted and angered that we squandered this rare gift of time.
I hope the city will learn from its mistakes, clearly communicate to residents how it is working to fix them, and fight to protect the data that it encouraged us to share. Most importantly, I hope the city rises to the challenge and implements a comprehensive vaccination strategy for our residents.
On Monday, I buried my grandmother who died of COVID-19 on the same day she was scheduled to receive her first dose of the vaccine. This is a stark reminder that the consequences of failing to get this right will be measured not in dollars and cents, but in trust, and ultimately lives lost.
Lauren Vidas is an attorney who formerly served in the Mayor’s Office during Michael Nutter’s administration. She lives in South Philadelphia.