Updated: 12:30 p.m. Thursday
On Saturday, the line of people waiting for coronavirus vaccines in Philadelphia was as long as it was desperate.
Some had waited hours by the time Philly Fighting COVID, the start-up administering vaccines on behalf of the city, began turning people away. The 9-month-old group had bungled a sign-up page that allowed dozens of people to make appointments online. On arrival, many learned the clinic was overbooked.
“There were literally 85-year-old, 90-year-old people standing there in tears, with printed appointment confirmations, saying, ‘I don’t understand why I can’t get vaccinated, I’m 85,’” said Jillian Horn, a Callowhill resident who tried to get inoculated this weekend.
A witness alleges that come nightfall, there were still vaccines left over — despite PFC workers having turned people away.
Katrina Lipinsky, a 29-year-old registered nurse who was on site that day, said she saw Philly Fighting COVID CEO Andrei Doroshin pack a bundle of unused vaccines into his bag shortly after 7 p.m.
“They ended the day with a significant number of unused vaccines,” Lipinsky said. “Andrei walked pretty openly from the vaccine area over to his belongings and packed maybe 10 to 15 in his bag with CDC record cards.”
Sometime after 8 p.m., a photograph of Doroshin reportedly circulated to dozens of Snapchat users. It appeared to show Doroshin, a 22-year-old Drexel graduate student with no health care experience, getting ready to administer an unspecified syringe off-site, according to three sources who saw the image.
Photos posted to the social media app automatically disappear after viewing, but the sources, who asked that their identities be withheld for fear of retribution, independently described the image of Doroshin wearing a suit as he held a syringe before a seated person in what appears to be someone’s private residence.
Doroshin was at a small gathering with friends that evening, said someone in attendance, who denied the CEO gave out any doses. Doroshin did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
The leftover doses came after a day of turning dozens of people away from the Convention Center, many of whom had made appointments but received no notice that they were canceled.
Doroshin had earlier called those reports of his taking vaccine doses home “baseless” and ignored repeated requests from WHYY and BillyPenn for interviews. But on Thursday, Jan. 28, in an interview with NBC’s “Today”, he admitted he took doses home, saying four were left over after the mass vaccination clinic. Doroshin said he and his team called everybody they knew.
He admitted that he is not a nurse, and is not qualified to give the vaccine. But Doroshin also said he stood by that decision, calling it a mistake that he made, but not a mistake of the organization. He did not explain why Philly Fighting COVID turned away people, including seniors, who were in line waiting for the vaccine that same day.
Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley said at Tuesday’s COVID-19 briefing that it’s proper protocol to return any leftover doses to the Health Department, and that no one should be taking syringes off site.
“If that’s true, that’s very disturbing,” he told reporters.
In retrospect, Farley said, he wished he hadn’t partnered with the group, but based on what they knew at the time, it seemed like a reasonable relationship to enter.
“They had what looked like a good plan,” Farley said, adding that the first weekend of the clinic went well. “This other information came to light subsequently.”
The allegations raise more alarming questions about Philly Fighting COVID and its leader just hours after the city yanked vaccines from the group over concerns about its for-profit designation and other “troubling” behaviors, first unearthed by WHYY News and Billy Penn in a series of stories over the last week.
In a non-contractual agreement, the city had provided Philly Fighting COVID with thousands of vaccine doses to distribute at the city’s mass vaccination site that opened at the Pennsylvania Convention Center earlier this month.
According to Pennsylvania licensure requirements, which the City of Philadelphia follows, only certain medical professionals — including doctors, nurses, and pharmacists — may administer immunizations. Students and other technicians may be eligible to administer vaccines under direct supervision. Doroshin, a graduate neuroscience student at Drexel, does not meet any of those criteria for who can inject a vaccine.
In an unrelated interview last week, Health Department spokesperson James Garrow used this very scenario as an example of a disqualifying practice for the city-partnered organization.
“If Andrei Doroshin is giving out vaccines, I would want to know that because then we would shut them down,” Garrow said.
Lipinsky also said that there were pre-med, nursing students, and staffers who were administering the vaccines, and filling syringes with fluid. According to Pennsylvania law, those individuals are allowed to vaccinate if they are under direct supervision. Lipinsky said clinical professionals were nearby, but not directly supervising.
“They were running around like kids at the end of the day vaccinating each other,” she said.
Another volunteer described a similar scene at the end of the day at the clinic the week prior, as well.
“It was a free-for-all,” said the volunteer, recounting 18- or 19-year-old college students vaccinating one another and taking photos as the clinic ended, without supervision.
Lipinsky herself was not asked for her credentials as a registered nurse until after she had already volunteered at the clinic, she said.
Farley said Tuesday he was not aware of anyone without the proper credentials administering the vaccine. He denied knowledge of any other misconduct from Philly Fighting COVID beyond the concerning privacy language in their incorporation documents and their abrupt abandoning of testing.
Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner released a statement asking people who have information about what they believe to be crimes involving Philly Fighting COVID or other pandemic relief efforts to contact his office’s Special Investigations Unit at DAO_SIU@phila.gov or 215-686-9608.
Attorney General Josh Shapiro said, “Taking advantage of people and their privacy under the guise of serving as a nonprofit is not only unethical — it can also be against Pennsylvania law. These allegations against Philly Fighting COVID are serious and any consumers who believe they have been misled should file a complaint with our office — online, by phone or by emailing email@example.com. We have been in touch with the City to obtain any information they can provide about these allegations. Our office oversees charitable organizations in the Commonwealth and we will ensure they are acting in good faith with the communities they serve.”
Formed last spring, Philly Fighting COVID went from a student-run group manufacturing PPE, to erecting one of the largest citywide coronavirus testing operations, to the city’s first mass vaccine distributor in just nine months’ time.
That astral trajectory came to an abrupt close on Monday after the city spent weeks distancing itself from the once-confident partner in the fight against the pandemic. It remains unclear whether the city knew about the allegations that Doroshin was taking vaccines on Saturday prior to terminating their relationship.
In recent interviews with national publications, Doroshin compared his vision for a vaccination program into a McDonald’s-like franchise and “a factory” that could move from city to city. He also advocated to “stop using best practices” for the sake of efficiency.
“The old best practices in healthcare in terms of intramuscular injections were written for a hospital visit that would take 30 minutes that you would bill for as a provider visit,” Doroshin told HealthDay in an interview last week. “Most of those best practices can go out the window.”
The city said it will have no trouble replacing Philly Fighting COVID’s role in Philadelphia’s vaccine distribution plan, with more details coming soon. Farley said the Health Department may staff a clinic with its own employees
This is a developing story and will be updated.
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