PHILADELPHIA — On January 25, the city of Philadelphia terminated its contract with controversial start-up Philly Fighting COVID for COVID-19 testing and vaccine distribution, after data privacy concerns, mismanagement of testing sites, and allegations of vaccine misuse, the Washington Post reported.
“As a result of these concerns, along with Philly Fighting COVID’s unexpected stoppage of testing operations, the health department has decided to stop providing vaccines to Philly Fighting COVID,” a statement read.
Philadelphia had hired the nonprofit-turned-start-up operated by a “group of college kids” to help immunize residents at the city’s first and largest vaccination facility at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. The city has guaranteed that the thousands who received their first vaccine dose at the Center will receive their second.
“I do understand why people are upset with that. We were very upset as well,” the city’s Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley said, as CBS reported. “It wasn’t good for us to have a partnership with that organization.”
The city made the decision one day after allegations were levelled against start-up CEO Andrei Doroshin, 22, for pocketing vaccine doses to administer to someone at their private home. Doroshin denies these allegations, according to Philadelphia Magazine. Prosecutors are looking into the allegations of misappropriation, according to the Washington Post.
The contract termination also followed Philly Fighting COVID’s transition to a for-profit entity, which enabled it to sell personal information from thousands who registered on the group’s website in hopes of getting a vaccine dose.
“We’re working with our law department to see if there’s any way to make sure that doesn’t happen,” said Dr. Farley.
In a statement on the company website, Doroshin said that the group does not intend to sell the private information of the vaccine recipients.
“We never have and never would sell, share, or disseminate any data we collected as it would be in violation of [Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act] rules,” Doroshin said in a statement. He said that the group switched to a for-profit company “so that we could expand our operations team and accelerate the vaccine distribution.”
According to Philadelphia Magazine, Doroshin had previously told Caroline Johnson, the city’s deputy health commissioner in charge of vaccine distribution, that he was switching to a for-profit status.
“I don’t understand why people are freaking out about this kind of stuff,” he said. “We just vaccinated 2,000 more people this weekend. We only care about vaccinating people.”
Doroshin is a graduate student at Drexel University, with “virtually no healthcare experience” spearheading a group of 20-somethings to operate the vaccination site and administer vaccines. Philadelphia Magazine also noted that Philly Fighting COVID’s executive team did not have anyone with a degree in medicine nor public health.
On January 23, dozens of senior citizens were stranded outside the Pennsylvania Convention Center after waiting hours for a vaccine, only to learn that the company had accidentally accepted too many applications.
Washington Post reported, citing WHYY-TV, that a witness saw elderly people in tears, holding printed appointment confirmations in their hands.
“I don’t understand why I can’t get vaccinated, I’m 85,” one senior told a volunteer.
Philly Fighting COVID was established in 2020 as a group of volunteers creating PPE for essential workers using a 3D printer.
“Our goal was to help frontline workers and use our resources to the best of our abilities,” Doroshin said. “We are grateful for the Health Department and the opportunity provided.”
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