Updated 5:22 p.m.
Philadelphia Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley is facing calls from state legislators to resign in the wake of a scandal over former testing and vaccine provider Philly Fighting COVID –– but Mayor Jim Kenney is standing by the embattled public servant.
Farley has already faced public outrage over revelations that his department entrusted vaccine distribution to a student-run group with little institutional background or medical experience. But on Friday, State Sen. Anthony Williams, State Rep. Darisha K. Parker, and State Rep. Jason Dawkins all called on the health commissioner to resign.
Williams said the debacle had shattered trust between the department and many already vaccine-skeptical city residents.
“The reality is that Dr. Farley is the face of the Health Department in Philadelphia,” Williams said. “And the reality is that he’s lost the confidence of African Americans, Latinos, Asians and many modest-income people. And many of our white counterparts agree.”
Williams indicated he had asked to meet with Kenney on Monday to discuss the issue. But in a Friday letter to Farley just hours earlier, the mayor praised the doctor’s guidance throughout the pandemic and largely directed blame away from Farley.
“I am disappointed by what has transpired with the organization Philly Fighting COVID. I know you share my concerns,” the mayor wrote. “You and your team have my confidence, and most importantly, the full force of the city government at your disposal to complete this latest, and vital mission. “
The city cut ties with Philly Fighting COVID after reporting raised questions about the group’s privacy policies, revelations that founder Andrei Doroshin — a 22-year-old Drexel University graduate student — had quietly shifted the organization to for-profit status, and PFC’s abrupt stoppage of the community testing it had been running in neighborhoods around the city.
Allegations of mismanagement and misconduct on the part of Philly Fighting COVID CEO Doroshin were first reported by a WHYY News and Billy Penn investigative series.
Kenney expressed relief that Philly Fighting COVID was “only” allotted roughly 6% of Philadelphia’s vaccine supply.
Before PFC was kicked out of the program, it administered about 7,000 doses to patients, over three January weekends at a Pennsylvania Convention Center pop-up clinic set up via a non-contractual arrangement with the city Health Department.
In the Friday letter to Farley, Kenney ordered the department to set up its own clinics to ensure that residents who had received their first vaccine shots from the disgraced group eventually received a critical second dose.
The mayor also called for an internal investigation into Philly Fighting COVID’s involvement with the Philadelphia Department of Public Health, with findings released to the public within a month.
“Please identify any and all weaknesses in the vetting process that could have prevented the present outcome, and provide a set of improvements you intend to make to ensure all future partners can deliver these precious services in a safe, equitable, and professional manner,” Kenney wrote.
Other elected officials have raised questions about whether the debacle worsened skepticism about vaccine distribution, particularly in communities of color.
In the letter to Farley, the mayor indicated another city-approved provider, the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium, would be given additional doses to compensate for “persistent racial inequities experienced by communities of color” during the pandemic.
The Black Doctors Consortium has already begun vaccinating city residents, in a periodic program that started about a week after Philly Fighting COVID.
After city officials announced they would no longer work with PFC, Doroshin was later found to have improperly taken doses of the vaccine home for personal use, sparking further backlash. At first, he denied the claims, calling WHYY’s reports of the impropriety “baseless,” but then admitted they were true during a Thursday morning “Today” show appearance.
In Kenney’s letter, the mayor orders any officials or public employees with knowledge of additional malfeasance to report it to the city’s inspector general.
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