Philly Fighting COVID comes under more fire

Coronavirus vaccination site at NYCHA housing complex in Brooklyn
Mary Altaffer/Pool via REUTERS

Allegations continue to emerge about Philly Fighting COVID, an organization that was administering coronavirus vaccines in the city as recently as Saturday.

The start-up, which opened Philadelphia’s first mass vaccination clinic, transitioned to a for-profit corporation and language in its business documents indicated it could sell people’s personal information, the Inquirer reported.

Then, on Tuesday, a registered nurse, Katrina Lipinsky, who volunteered with PFC and spoke to WHYY, accused the company’s CEO, 22-year-old Drexel University graduate student Andrei Doroshin, of diverting doses.

Lipinsky tweeted that he stuffed “a ziplock bag-full of vaccines” in his bag and took them home following a clinic Saturday at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.

“If that’s true, that’s very disturbing,” Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said Tuesday, adding that leftover doses should be returned to the Philadelphia Department of Public Health.

Doroshin did not address the allegation in a statement on PFC’s website Tuesday afternoon, and he could not be reached for comment. PFC did not respond to email and social media inquiries.

A public relations firm that previously worked with PFC ended its relationship with the organization in the wake of the controversy.

District Attorney Larry Krasner said he has “questions” after reading the reporting on PFC’s operations, and he encouraged tipsters to contact the DA’s special investigations unit.

The health department severed ties with the organization Monday, saying it would not provide vaccines to PFC.

PFC has distributed thousands of doses — 6,800, according to Doroshin — since opening the Convention Center clinic earlier this month.

Farley, during a press briefing Tuesday, said people who received their first dose from PFC will get their second shot as scheduled, administered either by the health department or its partners.

City health officials said they signed a contract with PFC to conduct testing that included privacy provisions. However, after the start-up volunteered to operate a mass vaccination site, the health department issued a provider agreement without those protections.

No money exchanged hands as part of that agreement, according to Farley.

He said his department decided to work with PFC to facilitate the vaccination of unaffiliated healthcare workers and administer doses at a faster pace.

“Based on the history we had, it seemed like a reasonable step at the time,” Farley said. “In retrospect, we wish we hadn’t worked with that organization.”

Doroshin wrote in a response on PFC’s website that the company removed “problematic” language in its privacy policy as soon as they were aware of it. He apologized and said his organization “had never and would never” share or sell any data collected.

Farley said he is in talks with the city’s law department to determine if there’s a way to ensure the information is kept private.

PFC had been asking residents to “pre-commit” to receiving a vaccine, and the city encouraged people to sign up.

The health department recently launched its own website for residents to express interest in getting the injection.

Doroshin’s organization also raised eyebrows last week when WHYY published an article saying PFC was moving from testing to vaccinations and cancelling neighborhood testing events.

PFC confirmed the shift, with Doroshin writing in his statement that the start-up doesn’t have enough resources to do both.

He also defended the decision to start a for-profit corporation.

“Vaccinating large groups of people takes resources, manpower, and ultimately financial help,” Doroshin said. “That is why we also shifted gears to a for-profit company — so that we could expand our operations team and accelerate the vaccine distribution.”

None of this was hidden from the city and the corporation’s name was on a requests-for-proposals document filed last week, he said.

Farley said his department was aware of the change but that a combination of factors led to the city deciding to back out of its relationship with PFC.