Transcript: Sprezzatura (Half Vaxxed)

Half Vaxxed

New: Half Vaxxed

[theme music]

NINA FELDMAN, HOST: From WHYY, this is Half Vaxxed — the story of how a startup group with no medical training ended up in the driver’s seat of Philadelphia’s vaccine rollout. I’m your host, Nina Feldman.

In episode one, we heard about how Philly Fighting COVID got its start, the sense of purpose it offered for its volunteers and the promise city health officials saw in an energized and agile group.

But that was not the whole story. From the very start, little red flags were popping up all over and people in city government saw them. Still, they kept giving the group more and more responsibility.

And just a heads up, this episode contains some language that may not be suitable for kids.

[ambient sound at Convention Center clinic]

Philly Fighting COVID had big ambitions — big enough to land them the city’s first mass vaccination clinic at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.

But when I walked in to cover the kick-off event on that cold January morning, I’d only vaguely heard of them. I knew they’d done coronavirus testing up in Fishtown, but not much else. I’d been covering the pandemic since it started, and I thought it was sort of odd that they would be the ones to run the first vaccine clinic. I figured they must be a larger operation than I’d realized.

But the more I heard that morning at the press conference, the less it added up.

About a dozen other reporters and I gathered around a podium. A screen hung in the background, checkered with the Philly Fighting COVID logo — a shadow boxer, not unlike Rocky, the Philadelphia icon, armed with a giant syringe in one of its gloved hands.

This clinic seemed especially exciting because Philly Fighting COVID had set up a website where anyone could pre-register for the vaccine. All you had to do was enter your name, age, job, and you’d be called up when it was your turn.

This might seem like a totally basic idea to us now, but back then, it was the first time people could actually take what felt like a real step towards getting the vaccine, even if they weren’t eligible for it yet. In the first week after the site went live, 60,000 people signed up. I was one of them. So were many of my friends and co-workers.

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney kicked off the press conference.


NF: Kenney’s known for sounding like he’d rather be doing anything else besides being the mayor.

JK: First, I want to thank the Philadelphia Department of Public Health and Philly Fighting COVID for organizing this clinic.

NF: He started out by saying equitable distribution of the vaccine is a priority for his administration. Then, staying true to his hands-off leadership style, he quickly turned it over to Deputy Health Commissioner Dr. Caroline Johnson. She hit the equity point, too.

DR. CAROLINE JOHNSON: We need to make all of this distribution fair, equitable, and transparent.

NF: Johnson said the health department simply couldn’t do this alone. The city desperately needed a partner. With that, she turned to a 20-something white guy with blue eyes and a buzzed head.

Andrei Doroshin stepped to the podium. He’s got a youthful energy, and he’s not shy before a crowd. He spoke like he was pitching an idea to an executive board or to an angel investor on “Shark Tank.” He thanked a long list of city officials for this opportunity.

ANDREI DOROSHIN: Well, and my girlfriend Lauren for putting up with me.

NF: That comment seemed sort of weird to me. It’s not like he was winning an Oscar or being elected to office. Then, he told the story of his organization. I waited patiently through this part — I was more interested in the details of how the clinic would work.

AD: This was the first testing site in Philadelphia that was free. You didn’t need symptoms and you didn’t need a doctor’s note.

NF: That last detail caught my attention, though. The first free testing site where you didn’t need a doctor’s note or symptoms? That couldn’t be right. I knew off the top of my head of at least one other group, the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium, that had been doing just that since April. These guys started doing COVID testing in June.

AD: What you see here is the problem that we’ve been solving for six months. This is the problem of vaccinating an entire population of people on a scale that has never been seen before in the history of our species.

NF: Then, Andrei handed things off to the chief science officer of Philly Fighting COVID, Karol Osipowicz. Everybody calls him Dr. O.

AD: So, Dr. O. [applause]

KAROL OSIPOWICZ: Thank you, Andrei.

NF: Dr. O said the group had performed 20,000 tests so far, which he described as half of the city’s total tests. I did some quick math in my head — again, that couldn’t be right. At the time, the city was doing 7,000 tests a day. Still, even city officials can mix up their statistics during press conferences. I figured it was an honest mistake. Maybe I misunderstood.

And the operation did seem impressive. Philly Fighting COVID was going to vaccinate 2,400 people in two days. They said they designed the clinic to be super efficient, and scalable so that once this one was up and running, places around the city could replicate it and vaccinate people quickly.

The press conference wrapped up and Dr. O led us on a tour of the clinic.

KO: If you’ll look to my right here, you’ll see a bunch of chairs lined up…

NF: He described how that pre-registration site would work with the department of health. He said Philly Fighting COVID would email everyone as soon as the city signaled they were eligible.

KO: Because we’re partnering so closely with the Department of Health, we will have that information before any other agencies.

NF: I figured the city must be footing the bill for a massive public effort like this, and wanted to know how much it was costing taxpayers.

NF TO KO: Do you have an estimated cost per day of how much it costs to run this?

KO: [laughs] That’s a question for our CFO. I’m sorry, I’m not in charge of that. Anyway, let me take you along through the rest of the clinic…

NF: That was the end of the tour. In the hallway outside the clinic, I found Andrei with his giant English bulldog, Winston, by his side, chatting with his PR rep.

AD: And I’m not allowed to curse, right?

PR REP: No cursing — I really had to tell him the rules yesterday.

NF: I still wanted to know about the money.

NF to AD: I had some questions about cost that I was told to direct your way.

AD: Yeah, what’s up with your costs, man?

NF: I’m Nina, I’m with WHYY. I’m curious about how much it costs to run an event like this on a, per day.

AD: I can’t actually tell you those specifics, but I can tell you it’s a really nice Mercedes.

NF: [laughs] And is the funding from the city?

AD: It will hopefully start coming from the city, as we are applying for grant funding, but currently I am privately funding this…

NF: Oh.

AD: …as well as a couple friends of mine.

NF: Got it. And is that, like, where does your funding come from? Is that just your own…

AD: It’s my philanthropy, man. And so’s my friends. We gotta do good things in bad times.

NF: It didn’t seem like I was going to get any further, so I pet the dog…

NF: Hi Winston, hi buddy!

[theme music]

NF: …packed up my gear, and went home to file my story.

But something about this didn’t sit right with me. Andrei was privately funding this whole thing? How? Why wasn’t the city paying for it?

I asked my colleague Max Marin, an investigative reporter who’d been covering the pandemic as long as I had, if he knew anything about this group and its young, apparently wealthy CEO.

NF TO MAX MARIN: Max, do you remember our first conversation about Andrei?

MAX MARIN: Yeah, because I hadn’t heard anything about this group until you texted me and said, “Max, you need to look at this guy.” So I went and found Andrei’s bio on LinkedIn and on the Philly Fighting COVID website, and I saw this 20-something guy on a motorcycle with his bulldog in his lap, and his resume read like a Fortune 500 executive — entrepreneur, philanthropist, “director of photography,” founder of a nonprofit.

NF: Right, and you’ve covered politics and government in Philadelphia for a long time. My sense is Andrei is not really who you’d picture in the cast of usual characters doing big business in city politics.

MM: No. Philly is a “who-you-know” kind of town and this guy is an outsider. There just aren’t a lot of people with the venture capital vibey thing that Andrei has going on. So after we talked, Nina, I started tracking down the places listed on his resume to see what they could tell me about him.

NF: Where did you start?

MM: Andrei’s bio says he was the director of photography for a production company in LA and the founder of something called the Rancho Mirage Film Department.

[music from short film]

MM: I found a bunch of amateur short movies that Andrei made on YouTube and I will say he’s definitely got a flare for action.

FILM CLIP: “It was tough getting you out of there. We barely made it out alive.” “Yeah…”

MM: There’s one that’s just a four minute long battle in a jungle with a bunch of teenage boys running around shooting each other. And there’s another short called “A Day in the Life of Andrei Doroshin.”

FILM CLIP, AD: “I guess in my head, the day starts with the first lift. The best sound in the world. The 45-pound plates hitting up against each other.”

MM: In this film, as Andrei walks through his typical day at Rancho Mirage High School, it started to become clear that the Rancho Mirage film department was a high school film club.

FILM CLIP, AD: “After party? Yes, please. After party party round two? Yes, please.”

NF: Ok, but don’t lots of people inflate parts of their resumes to get into college or get a first job…?

MM: Alright, Nina, stop — just say what you want to say about me.

NF: [laughs] I wasn’t going to name any names, but …

MM: Andrei later admitted to a reporter at Philadelphia Magazine that he had probably stretched things a bit farther than appropriate. But it was more than just the film industry stuff.

NF: Right, I remember there was a boutique hotel he said he was the CEO of?

MM: Yes. His father was a real estate developer, so they were working on that together. But it never became anything more than a fancy website. And Andrei claimed he was a neuroscientist, but the Drexel College of Medicine confirmed he was actually a graduate student in the psychology program.

NF: Okay, but let’s talk about the nonprofit that he started in California because if any of his accomplishments lent itself to the work Philly Fighting COVID was doing, it seems like this would be it. First of all, he founded a nonprofit at age 17!

MM: It’s impressive on paper!

NF: It is.

MM: So Andrei went to high school in an affluent area near Palm Springs, California. While he was there, he got involved with some environmental advocacy around air quality in a deeply poor area nearby. He founded this group called Invisible Sea, and he made a bunch of bold claims about how he helped enact legislation, started all these campaigns. He presented himself as a big changemaker. Here he is talking about it in his college application video from 2016.

CLIP, AD: “We created campaigns to seal dirt roads in open areas of land. We then created campaigns to educate local communities about how to prevent against asthma and detect it. Then we sent letters to the state talking about water conservation.”

MM: I mean the piano music is lovely and all, but none of this checked out. I could only find one Invisible Sea fundraiser where they raised less than $700 out of a $50,000 goal. Its Twitter account is dormant.

NF: Hmm and what about the campaigns and legislation he said he helped enact?

MM: I called government officials and longtime nonprofit advocates in the Imperial Valley, people who had been combating air quality around the Salton Sea for decades, to see if they’d heard of Andrei or his group. I showed them videos of the claims he made. No one really remembered him. Some were pretty offended to learn he was taking so much credit for the work.

CLIP, AD: “We slowly caught on, and it’s really amazing because now we’re scheduled for a Ted Talk next month and we’re talking to the state about renewable energy at the Salton Sea. So, all this really showed me how when you have a really bright team, a really bright group of people, you can get really amazing things done. And my team and I will finish this job together.”

NF: But, they didn’t, right?

MM: No, they did not. I remember getting a text message from one of these nonprofit leaders in the Salton Sea saying the Salton Sea is worse than it’s ever been.

NF: Oof.

MM: And hearing him make this promise that he would assemble a team and get the job done, while knowing that a few years later his nonprofit had basically disappeared without a trace off the face of the earth, it just made me wonder about the fate of Philly Fighting COVID.

NF: Ok but to cut him a little slack, Philly Fighting COVID had actually gotten off the ground, and had some accomplishments to speak of, unlike a lot of this other stuff. It really was a thing. So, what did you find out about how Andrei ended up starting that group?

MM: Well, there is a pretty crude story that Andrei would tell about why he decided to start making face shields in the first place. Amanda Hughes, who was Philly Fighting COVID’s head of testing, says she heard it more than once.

AMANDA HUGHES: So it was like the pandemic happened. I think a month goes by — hardly a month — where the world, quote unquote, shut down. And it was like, “You know, the real story. I, uh, you know, woke up one day after masturbating 13 times and I thought, you know, I got to do something else, you know, I got to do something more valuable. Like, this is not fulfilling me. I’m depressed.”

MM: Here’s where we need to note something important: Andrei didn’t answer our attempts to get in touch with him for this podcast. But multiple people independently confirmed they heard him tell that story. And there’s evidence that Andrei wasn’t shy about talking about sex or making jokes about it in public.

NF: Yeah, we’ll get into more of that later. But at this point, you start making calls and you’re talking to all these former Philly Fighting COVID volunteers and staffers who are starting to paint a picture of an ambitious, but volatile, hotheaded leader with no medical experience.

MM: Right, and I’m wondering, you know, I know all these people believe in the mission of the work, but why are you working for this guy? What do people think about him? And so I start talking to people and asking these questions. I’m making calls. And late one night, shortly after I finished work at home, I got a call from a number with a California area code. It was Andrei. He wanted to know why I was trying to, quote, “write a nasty article about him.”

NF: Did that surprise you?

MM: Only in that most CEOs or people in government have a press strategy that would never allow this kind of thing to happen, and yet here was this guy tasked with handling the city’s extremely limited vaccine supply, snapping off at me asking questions.

NF: So what did you say?

MM: I said, “Alright Andrei, well, now that I have you, let’s do an interview and talk about it.” And I started to straight up ask him a bunch of questions — bing, bang, boom. And he muttered something disparaging about “you people in the press.” He said, “I’m not doing an interview with you” and he hung up.


NF: But Andrei did agree to an interview with us the next day — this time, through his PR rep. I took this chance to ask him what we hadn’t been able to figure out yet: where his money to run the clinic came from.

NF TO AD: I imagine that would take quite a bit of capital to start up? Where does that investment come from for you and for the other investors?

AD: I have two really, really good friends. They really trusted in the mission of what we’re doing. They invested before they even knew if there was going to be profit. They just believed that this was going to be something that would help the city. We all really love this city… The health care systems weren’t doing anything, right? So we figured we would.

NF: I know I asked you about this before, but I am still curious how much the upfront investment cost for a day or a weekend of the mass vaccination site at the Convention Center costs.

AD: No comment.

NF: OK. Are you able to say anything about how much investment upfront you put in personally?

AD: No. Nope. I mean, I really didn’t put in anything as far as you’re concerned. As far as anyone is concerned, I didn’t put anything in. I’m a twenty two year old. Remember you asked me when my date of birth was.

NF: Yes, but why is that relevant to how much money you put in?

AD: Well, I’m 22 years old. I don’t know if you know a lot of 22-year-olds, but especially coming out of college, don’t really have a lot of money.

NF: Right. But, you know, you said you’ve been in business with your dad who’s a real estate investor, is it his money?

AD: No? [laughs]

NF: There’s public interest in sort of where that investment is coming from whether it’s you or the board members or the investors. Any other light you can shed from a public interest perspective on who’s funding an operation that the city is so closely in partnership with?

AD: Yeah, I mean, I think a few things, right? Do you know who the investors at CVS are? You probably don’t, right? Because nobody cares. They deliver a service, the service is done. We promise people service. We deliver the service. I think the only people concerned about that funding is you.

[theme music]

NF: This is the only interview we ever got with Andrei. He later said publicly that he took out a $250,000 loan to pay for the vaccination sites.

But at that point, he was right. We were the only ones who cared about the money. That wouldn’t be true for long. We’ll be right back.

New: Half Vaxxed

NF: This is Half Vaxxed, I’m Nina Feldman.

Andrei wasn’t always so focused on making money, at least not according to his staffers. While they were printing face shields and operating the testing site, the mission of the organization was about helping out and having fun.

But the attitude that Max and I got a glimpse of — that volatility, the temper — that started to rear its head after that meeting on Amanda’s rooftop where he laid out his big vaccination plans. After that, things really started to change.


Amanda says she was always wary of all the talk of vaccines. She just couldn’t picture how it would work. The city paid them for testing. Would it be the same for vaccines? Would they continue running the testing sites? If not, would there be a place for her anymore?

She was starting to get nervous, so one day when Andrei swung by the testing site, she asked him about it.

AH: He’s like, “I don’t know, like we might change, like, to for-profit and we’ll all have, like, a piece of it.” And I was like, “What?” I said, “How’s that going to work?”

NF: The idea enticed her to a certain degree.

AH: Of course it’s intriguing because it’s like, Snapchat, Gopuff, all these things that are started by students that, like, you make a living off of in the end, like, that sets you up, your career.

NF: Still, she wasn’t convinced that the group should make the switch to vaccines. She’s a details person and she just didn’t see how the pieces fit together.

About a month later, Victor Shugart, Andrei’s number two, asked Amanda for a Zoom call.
Sounding nervous, she says he asked her to switch to the phone, where, without looking her in the eye, he told her she was relieved of her duties as head of testing and volunteer coordinator for Philly Fighting COVID.

AH: I started bawling my eyes out. This came out of absolutely nowhere. I just said, “Victor, what are you talking about? Like did I do something?” Like, I’m like begging them, begging for an explanation.

NF: Amanda was in shock. She had poured her entire life into Philly Fighting COVID. She’d recruited her friends. Her schoolwork had suffered. She had signed a one-year lease on Andrei’s word that she’d have a job through the end of it. She called Andrei.

AH: He was just like, “Hey, man, what’s up? How are you?” He’d fully known, like, what had just happened. And I was like, crying. I was like, “Can you explain to me, like, why this is happening? Like, I don’t understand. This came out of nowhere. I’m so blindsided. I don’t know what to do with myself.” And he was just like, “I don’t know, man. Like, this is just kind of, like, the way it goes.”

NF: Amanda was distraught. This was her baby, too. She deserved to know the reason why she was being fired.

AH: He was like, “I don’t know, man. Like, the company’s moving a different direction and it’s just like what has to happen, you know. Like, I had to do this a lot in the film industry.” He goes, “Yeah, so I’m going to go and, you know, wish you the best of luck. Talk to you soon.” Hang up on me.

NF: This was mid-November. In just over a month, that “new direction” would become clear to everyone.


To this day, Amanda still doesn’t know exactly why she was fired. Maybe it was because she was hesitant about the plan to shift to vaccines. At least five former staffers said Andrei was romantically involved with the person he promoted to fill Amanda’s position after she was fired. Maybe that was why.

Whatever the reason, once Amanda was gone, things started to unravel. She had been the one who’d recruited many of the volunteers, trained them, got them to and from the testing site.

Annabelle Alrez was one of those people and she stayed on. She and others say the work culture became more and more petty — and listen, if you’ve ever been a camp counselor or worked at a restaurant with people in their 20s, you know there’s nothing unusual about work drama. Cliques form, hormones rage, grudges hold.

But Annabelle says the executive team became a sort of “in-crowd.” It felt inappropriate, especially given how important the work that they were doing was.

ANNABELLE ALREZ: They would go to, like, dinners and stuff and they would invite only certain people. And I remember ,like, they would be at the test site just talking about the girls that they thought were pretty.

NF: Multiple former staffers said Andrei often acted unprofessionally and said crude things. And there’s a paper trail of that, too.

On his personal Venmo account, interspersed with Philly Fighting COVID business, we found payments to colleagues with publicly viewable descriptions that said “dicks, tits, boobs, strippers…” It went on, including a few other words that I honestly don’t really want to repeat.

Annabelle says this is when the executive staffers started to talk about how much money they were going to make from vaccines.


They bragged about the vacations they’d be able to afford. She says some people started planning a trip to a boutique llama farm in Colorado. And she says Andrei even started to change his look.

AA: It was almost like the dynamic was just so weird because at first he would always show up and like his little Sketchers sneakers with his Android and his scrubs.

NF: But over the course of the time she worked there, Andrei came to the testing site less and less.

AA: Now he would pull up at the end in these, like, bougie outfits and like a new car. And I was like an iPhone, which he had not had before.

NF: It all just struck her as really out of place.

AA: [laughs] He looked like a boss mafia man, like, I thought he was part of the mafia.

NF: This was not an accident. Philly Fighting COVID staffers told us Andrei was very intentional about the way he curated his image.

Andrei revered powerful leaders and philosophers. He would quote Teddy Roosevelt and Voltaire in his emails to staff. The clothes, the quotes — they were part of a broader philosophy he ascribed to.

DR. JOSE TORRADAS: There’s a word he would use in Italian. I forget honestly, I’ve been looking it up, trying to figure out what it was.

NF: Here’s Dr. Jose Torradas. He’s the emergency room doctor, who was brought on to do more testing to Latino communities.

JT: This word he kept on using, which was in a way almost “fake it till you make it,” but it was basically just, exude supreme confidence, that even if you’ve never done this before, you make it seem like you’ve done it a thousand times.

NF: The word he’s trying to remember is “sprezzatura.”


It’s a term whose origins date back to the Italian Renaissance and it doesn’t have a direct English translation, but roughly it can be interpreted as a “studied nonchalance.” It means acting like things are a total breeze, when in fact they’re quite hard.

Jose says Andrei was always trying to make himself seem more experienced than he was. He wouldn’t even disclose how old he was.

JT: He told me that that was a company secret.

NF: And that sprezzatura — that “fake it til you make it” philosophy — it would eventually pay off.

In the meantime though, there were some Philadelphia Health Department staffers who were not buying Andrei’s act.

Emails we got through a public records request show that Andrei often neglected some of the smaller details involved in running the testing site, including some of the requirements Philly Fighting COVID had to fulfill for their city contract.


The city was constantly haranguing Andrei about invoices he had submitted incorrectly. At one point, a testing administrator with the health department requested that Andrei send some additional receipts, showing how they spent their money. Andrei responded, “We kindly ask that you change this to needing as little as possible.”

On top of that, Philly Fighting COVID’s testing contract required the group to test underserved populations. But there was no way to know if they actually were, because they did a terrible job tracking that information compared to other testing operators who got money from the city.

Philly Fighting COVID was missing racial and ethnic data for 70% of its tests. For comparison, another city contractor, the Black Doctors COVID-19 consortium, was missing demographic data for 4% of its tests.

Andrei was in constant communication with the health department. He signed the city contract. He must have known about the requirements.

Amanda for her part says she didn’t know she was supposed to be reporting that information.

The venue where Philly Fighting COVID ran the testing site was in a mostly white neighborhood. When the group tried to open up a new testing site in another mostly white neighborhood, Colleen Tingey, the same health department staffer who had connected with the group in the first place, told Andrei that the city wouldn’t fund it.

Instead, she said Philly Fighting COVID needed to make partnerships with community organizations in Black and Latino neighborhoods. At the time, those groups were getting COVID at the highest rates, but being tested at the lowest rates.

And the quality of care at the testing sites was starting to decline, too.

Debbie Flamholz is a nurse who started working for Philly Fighting COVID in the summer of 2020. She says she really saw the group’s potential at first. In the hospital where she worked before, she usually saw people when they were really sick. Here, she got a chance to meet people in their communities. It felt like a chance to prevent people from getting so sick.

DEBBIE FLAMHOLZ: I was clutching to these kids who were like the cusp of something new, the cusp of really trying to get on the ground again.

NF: But after Amanda was fired, there was less consistency in volunteers. Debbie says it was unclear who was in charge. Leadership was absent.

DF: It was difficult to get a hold of them. Any question would end up usually unanswered or deferred to another person.

NF TO DF: What impact did that have on the quality of service to patients?

DF: It was shit. There was a complete breakdown of communication.

NF: Debbie says all the disorganization meant volunteers often treated patients’ personal information carelessly.

DF: It was a lot of, like, rechecking who is this person, do we have this paper, where is the paper? Has it flown away again?

NF: The parking lot where the testing site was set up was under a highway overpass where the wind was often intense. Debbie says it wasn’t uncommon for paperwork to fly away, with people’s names, addresses, and social security numbers on them. Debbie says, sometimes, identifying information would end up in the dumpster. People throw around privacy violations and what it means to go against HIPAA a lot, but anyone who’s had a job in health care knows that shredding personal info is basically HIPAA 101.

DF: In the hospital, if something has your name on it, it only gets looked at by the person taking care of you. Say you’re my patient. Once I’m done taking care of you for the day, everything that’s related to you gets put into a confidential shredder. I cannot take it home with me. I cannot leave it flipped over so someone not taking care of you can look at it. I cannot leave my computer up with your data on.

NF: Debbie brought up the HIPAA issues to Andrei. She told him someone needed to be in charge on site. So, he put his 19-year-old brother, Sergei in charge.

DF: Sergei not only doesn’t have medical experience, doesn’t even have an interest in the field.

NF TO DF: So what was his management style on site?

DF: There was a lot of dancing, which I don’t dislike. I think dancing is very healing. We had a lot of good music. It was great. Being a little bit flamboyant at work is fantastic. However, when that’s the only thing you can do, it troubles me, as a manager.

NF TO DF: What did he like to listen to?

DF: He actually liked a lot of Sinatra.

[music, “My Way” by Frank Sinatra]

NF: She says he would alternate between electronic dance music and the classics.

DF: He’d be singing along sort of like in his own little world. But he would wander off a lot. He would fall asleep in the car and just be gone, or he would try and take over the provider role. He would take papers and ask patients questions. And although that seems arbitrary, like, he’s just asking questions, it’s no big deal. They’re just going to get a covid test. Well, he doesn’t know what any of it means. If somebody said “yes” to having COPD, does he even fucking know what COPD is? No, he doesn’t. And he doesn’t care.

NF: Sergei didn’t respond to our requests to talk with him for this podcast.

Debbie worried what the group would have done without her clinical experience — like when they wanted to start giving flu shots, as a practice round for the COVID vaccines. Debbie volunteered to prepare some training materials, but to do that, she needed more information.

DF: What was our setup? Who’s doing this? How are we teaching people? Who’s allowed to do this legally? Because if they’re students, who’s overseeing that? I’m not licensed to oversee a student.

NF: But the more questions she asked, the more she says she was rebuffed by her supervisor. Eventually, Debbie heard through the grapevine that she’d been fired for asking too many questions. She was confused. No one had ever fired her. As inexperienced and unprofessional as these students were, Debbie wished she could have stayed a part of the group.

DF: I still have this, like, feeling in my heart that we had a chance to do something really good for the community. And free public health is something that is not readily accessible.

NF: Amanda and Debbie weren’t the only ones who left Philly Fighting COVID in the months leading up to the vaccine clinic. Eventually, Annabelle left, too. She says all the talk about money rubbed her the wrong way. She didn’t like that Amanda had been fired. And she talked to her mom.

[theme music]

AA: I remember my mom literally telling me that — I was in New York for the week and she was like, something is going to, like, blow up in their faces. This is going to go down in flames.

NF: And that’s exactly what happened. Coming up on Half Vaxxed: A whistleblower tries to warn the city that Philly Fighting COVID is trouble.

CLIP, JT: I just can smell this in the water that something is going to go wrong.

NF: And Andrei makes a rash decision that stuns community leaders.

CLIP, SIRIA RIVERA: I feel like it was all a facade.

NF: Meanwhile, bigger and bigger problems at the vaccination clinic lead Philly Fighting COVID beyond the point of no return.

CLIP, SID JANARDHANAN: It was like being on a sinking ship.

NF: That’s next time on Half Vaxxed.

Half Vaxxed is reported by me, Nina Feldman, with Alan Yu and Max Marin. Our producer is Buffy Gorrilla. Our engineer for this episode was Mike Villers. Mixing and sound design by Charlie Kaier. Original music by Max Marin. Our editor is Katie Colaneri with help from Danya Henninger, Joanne McLaughlin, and Maiken Scott. This podcast is a production of WHYY and Billy Penn. Subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.

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