Philly health official steps down

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The city’s handling of the Philly Fighting COVID situation has catapulted Philadelphia’s vaccine roll-out into the national news.

Fallout from the Philly Fighting COVID scandal continued over the weekend, as one of the city’s top health officials stepped down after it was revealed she may have helped give the organization a leg up in applying for a contract to distribute vaccines.

Deputy Health Commissioner Caroline Johnson was in contact with PFC and the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium about a request-for-proposals application process for community vaccination partners, said James Garrow, a spokesman for the health department.

Garrow called the communication “inappropriate” because the information was not shared with all groups interested in administering vaccines.

Johnson resigned Saturday when presented with the correspondence, he said. She had worked in the health department for 17 years and had been one of the faces of the city’s COVID-19 vaccination campaign.

It’s the latest in a series of events involving PFC, which vaccinated thousands of people at the Pennsylvania Convention Center before it lost its partnership with the city last week following questions about its privacy policy and for-profit status.

In addition, the start-up’s 22-year-old CEO, Andrei Doroshin, has admitted to taking vaccines home to inoculate his friends, though he claims he did it to prevent the doses from expiring.

Much, if not all, of the revelations about the organization came from investigative reporting by the Inquirer and WHYY.

The PFC saga has made national news, even becoming a punchline on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.”

Doroshin lamented Johnson’s resignation, referring to her as a “hero of the pandemic.” During a press conference Friday at his Fishtown apartment building, he advocated for her to replace City Health Commissioner Thomas Farley.

“This was because Tom Farley did not want to face the music for the mistakes he made,” Doroshin said in a statement Saturday. “Let’s remember, he is still running away.”

He isn’t the only one calling for Farley to be ousted. A group of state lawmakers from Philadelphia have also been pushing for his resignation.

“The loss of the public’s trust requires that we have a change at the department,” State Rep. Jason Dawkins said in a statement. “Things need to change to ensure everyone has a sense of security moving forward.”

Mayor Jim Kenney, who could ask Farley to step down, has instead said that the health commissioner has his “confidence.”

“It is beyond question, and without doubt, that your steady leadership of the Philadelphia Department of Public Health during the COVID-19 pandemic has helped save thousands of Philadelphians’ lives,” Kenney wrote in a letter to Farley on Friday.

In the same letter, the mayor asked Farley to produce a report within 30 days detailing how the health department began working with PFC. The document should propose improvements to the department’s vetting process.

Kenney also told Farley to redirect all doses that would have gone to PFC to other organizations, with a “special focus” on boosting shipments to the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium.

The letter instructs the health department to make sure anyone who received their first dose through PFC gets their second shot on schedule, something Farley has already promised would happen.