Drexel tries to distance itself, but nursing students helped Philly Fighting COVID vaccinate patients

Drexel University

Drexel University in Philadelphia on Wednesday, May 5, 2019. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

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Drexel University is attempting to distance itself from the now-disgraced start-up Philly Fighting COVID, which ran vaccine clinics at the Pennsylvania Convention Center for three consecutive weekends in January.

The West Philadelphia university released a statement on Thursday acknowledging that there were plans to coordinate with PFC, which was founded and run by Drexel grad student Andrei Doroshin. The 22-year-old CEO recently admitted taking home vaccine doses, amid local and national uproar over the mishandling of Philadelphia’s community vaccination program.

The statement, signed by Drexel president John Fry, acknowledged a pending relationship between the school and PFC, but says it never came to fruition.

“Drexel’s College of Nursing and Health Professionals had made arrangements with Philly Fighting COVID earlier this month for Drexel students to use their vaccination site for clinical rotations,” Fry wrote, “but that never transpired.”

Yet Jennifer Olzsewski, chair of Drexel’s Nursing Accelerated Career Entry Programs, said her students were on site at the Convention Center over the course of several days, helping run the clinic and inoculate patients.

“It’s a great organization that our students have been able to mesh in and do all this so easily,” Olzsewski had said. She could not be reached for further comment Thursday.

After Doroshin’s Jan. 15 appearance on NBC’s “Today” show, Drexel’s College of Nursing and Health Professionals tweeted a link to the coverage, boasting the school’s involvement with the Philly Fighting COVID clinic and adding that students were on site. On Jan. 26, as the PFC scandal intensified, the tweet was deleted.

(Twitter screenshot)

Asked for clarification on Thursday, Drexel spokesperson Niki Gianakaris said the nursing students and faculty volunteered for two weekends at the Convention Center, but the time was not classified as an official clinical rotation. The volunteer time, coordinated through the school, was not mentioned in Fry’s Thursday statement.

Before revelations of impropriety and carelessness came to light, Philly Fighting COVID attracted a lot of attention at Drexel. CEO Doroshin is enrolled in the master’s in psychology program at the Drexel University College of Arts and Sciences. Prior to this week’s news, social media accounts affiliated with the school promoted several of his glowing press appearances.

Karol Osipowicz, a faculty adviser to Doroshin who is an assistant teaching professor of psychology at Drexel, continues to serve as PFC’s chief science officer.

Drexel nursing students were excited to join the fight against the pandemic at Doroshin’s clinic, said career adviser Olzsewski.

“From the very beginning, when we had to flip our curriculum [because of the pandemic], our students have been so anxious to get out there and do something,” Olzsewski said in an interview after the first weekend of the mass vaccination clinic. “They’ve been begging for the opportunity to go out to the community to help.”

The plan, as detailed by Olzsewski, was for just over 100 nursing students to rotate through the PFC clinic, about four to six at a time. It’s standard for a community nursing course to be included in any nursing school curriculum, and this experience would count towards the credit requirements.

It’s unclear whether that plan came to an end before the city cut ties with Philly Fighting COVID this week.

City Council has called for hearings on how Doroshin’s 9-month-old start-up ended up with the go-ahead to open Philadelphia’s first clinic, despite other, more trusted medical organizations being ready and willing to step up.

The Drexel statement was released after the lawmakers’ introduction of a formal resolution to investigate PFC, serving to underline the idea that the university was not involved with the group under scrutiny.

“Philly Fighting COVID is a completely separate organization from Drexel University,” president Fry said in the statement. “The University had no involvement in the formation or management of the group.”

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