Convention Center to allow vaccine walk-ups

A man is inoculated at the FEMA mass vaccination site at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Center City.
PHOTO: Jack Tomczuk

People who live in certain neighborhoods will be allowed to walk into the Pennsylvania Convention Center for a vaccine without an appointment beginning Wednesday, city officials said.

It’s being pitched as a way to reach residents of under-served zip codes and close the racial gap in vaccinations.

“We are still having problems under-representing African Americans and Hispanic Philadelphia residents in the people who are being vaccinated at the Center City clinic,” Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said.

Since the federally-backed location opened earlier this month, nearly all who have secured appointments have done so through the city’s online vaccine interest form.

The site, which is being operated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, has administered nearly 80,000 vaccines. However, only about 13% of those inoculated there were Black and 11% were Hispanic, Farley said.

Philadelphia’s population is about 44% Black and 15% Latino, according to census data. About 9% of Hispanics and 11% of Black residents in the city have been vaccinated, compared to 22% of white Philadelphians and 16% of all residents.

In certain neighborhoods, inoculation rates are nearly four times higher per capita than the rates in lower-vaccinated zip codes in areas of North, Southwest, West and Northeast Philadelphia.

Officials said people in those zip codes have been targeted. They are about twice as likely to receive an invitation to the Convention Center, but that has not translated into more appointments, Farley said.

The open access period, during which walk-ups will be permitted, will start Wednesday and run through Monday.

For each day, 3,000 doses will be set aside for people with appointments, and an additional 3,000 will be reserved for the open access slots.

Residents who live in 19104, 19131, 19139, 19142, 19143, 19151 and 19153 in Southwest and West Philadelphia; 19122, 19132, 19133, 19134 and 19140 in North Philadelphia; and 19116, 19120, 19124, 19135, 19136, 19138, 19141, 19144, 19149 and 19152 in Northeast and Lower Northeast Philadelphia are eligible.

They must still meet the city’s requirements to get a shot, either because of their age, medical history or job. Last week, Philadelphia expanded eligibility to anyone ages 65 and older.

People looking for a walk-up should bring identification or a piece of mail to show they reside in one of the 22 zip codes. Farley said they can also bring proof of age, but they do not need evidence of a medical condition.

Those who travel to the Convention Center should get there between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. and be prepared to wait outside, Farley said. There’s a possibility they could be asked to come back another day if the slots are filled up.

If walk-in doses are accounted for early, Farley said the city will get the message out and tell people to stay home.

Officials are working with community organizations and SEPTA to arrange transportation from the neighborhoods to Center City.

Don’t try coming if you live in another zip code, Farley warned.

“You’ll be assisted in getting into the database for a future appointment,” he told reporters during a virtual briefing. “You’ll not be able to get vaccinated that day.”

SEPTA employees and essential city workers were inoculated Tuesday, March 2, at the FEMA mass vaccination site at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. PHOTO: Jack Tomczuk

Some smaller, city-run community clinics have provided limited walk-up access because not all appointments were taken up. Farley said the health department is working with neighborhood groups to contact people for those last-minute injections.

About 83,000 first doses of the vaccine are being shipped to Philadelphia this week, officials said, with about half of that total going to the Convention Center.

Nearly 379,000 people have received at least one dose in the city, and about 147,500 have been fully vaccinated, according to a health department dashboard.

City considers state rollback of restrictions

Gov. Tom Wolf on Monday said Pennsylvania pandemic regulations will be eased April 4, allowing restaurants to open at 75% if they complete a self-certification process.

In addition, they may resume bar service, without requiring that customers purchase a meal, and capacity limits for personal service businesses, gyms, casinos, theaters and malls will be upped to 75%.

Indoor events can increase to 25% of maximum occupancy and outdoor venues can go to 50%, as long as attendees and employees are able to maintain 6-foot distancing, Wolf’s administration said.

Farley said city leaders were still reviewing the changes Tuesday. Philadelphia has tended to impose stricter limits than the state. It currently prohibits indoor catered events and allows restaurants to open at half-capacity only if they meet ventilation standards.

“I am very concerned about the trend in the cases that we’re seeing right now,” Farley said. “Case counts are not going down. If anything, they’re going up.”

Officials said the city averaged 262 cases a day last week with a 5% positive test rate, compared to the prior week’s 275 daily cases and 3.9%.

Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration on Tuesday did begin accepting special event permits for the first time in eight months. Event organizers can submit applications for street festivals and block parties that will occur on April 15 or later.

Health guidance will need to be followed, officials said, with groups required to certify that they will follow safety protocols. Organizers of large events will need to draw up a COVID-19 safety plan.