‘Examine your conscience’: Kenney scolds vaccine line-jumpers as city crafts a tech solution

Garry Deans is vaccinated at FEMA's coronavirus vaccination center

SEPTA station manager Garry Deans, 63, is among the first to be vaccinated at the FEMA community vaccination center in the Pennsylvania Convention Center. For Tuesday’s soft opening, appointments focused on serving essential city workers like Deans. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

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With the soft-opening Tuesday of a FEMA-backed mass COVID-19 vaccination site at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, Philadelphia officials hope to focus their remaining resources on staffing standing community vaccine clinics for people who can’t get access to the Center City location.

The Center City Vaccination Center is part of a federal pilot. The site will officially open Wednesday and run seven days a week, 12 hours a day, for eight weeks. The site is expected to administer 6,000 vaccines a day from a separate federal allotment, meaning the city’s scheduled deliveries will not be affected. For Tuesday’s soft opening, appointments focused on serving city employees. (Here’s all you need to know about the FEMA site.)

Mayor Jim Kenney speaks at the opening of a federally-run mass vaccine center
Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney speaks at the opening of a federally-run mass vaccine center at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

“They are taking the weight off of us right now,” Mayor Jim Kenney said of the Convention Center site largely staffed by military personnel. “That gives us the ability to actually use our vaccine to get into neighborhoods and to set up sites in the community.”

Appointments for the FEMA site are invitation-only for high-priority residents in the city’s vaccination Phases 1A and 1B. But hundreds of people who were not eligible were able to schedule appointments — the sign-up link had no disclaimer on its page and ineligible people forwarded the link were able to get vaccine slots. A city spokesperson says appointments for people not on the invitation list will be canceled.

Sharing appointment links has been a problem through the vaccine rollout thus far. Health Department spokesperson James Garrow said Tuesday that the city will have a technical solution to fix the FEMA site issue by the end of the week.

Meanwhile, Kenney offered guidance he picked up in his Catholic school days. “The first thing I would suggest is what the Sisters of Mercy taught me in grade school … to examine your conscience and not try to jump the line and have some self-respect,” he said.

National Guard members fill syringes at the federally-run COVID-19 vaccination site
National Guard members fill syringes at the federally-run COVID-19 vaccination site at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Kenney reminded potential line-cutters that they might be getting the vaccine before people who are older adults and sick and “may die as a result” of not getting a shot.

This week, the city is slated to receive 47,000 vaccine doses, including a bulk shipment of 13,000 Johnson & Johnson single-dose shots, according to Garrow.

On Tuesday, U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas toured  Philly’s FEMA site, which like its counterparts in states such as California, Texas, and New York, focuses on equitable distribution of the vaccine.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas elbow bumps a National Guard member during a tour of FEMA’s community vaccination site at the Pennsylvania Convention Center
Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas elbow bumps a National Guard member during a tour of FEMA’s community vaccination site at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

“We are prioritizing equity because your socioeconomic status, your race, your ethnicity, your access to transportation, or your immigration status should not impact whether you are able to receive a vaccine,” said Mayorkas.

He reassured undocumented immigrants that agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection will not conduct immigration enforcement operations at or near vaccine distribution sites.

National Guard members undergo a temperature check as they enter the Pennsylvania Convention Center
National Guard members undergo a temperature check as they enter the Pennsylvania Convention Center, where FEMA has established a mass COVID-19 vaccination site in partnership with the city and state. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

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