Vaccine operation appears to be nearing next step

Entrance to the Pennsylvania Convention Center
A massive vaccination site overseen by FEMA is scheduled to open this week at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.
Getty Images

A federally-backed COVID-19 vaccination site capable of inoculating 6,000 people a day is set to open at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in the next couple of weeks.

The Philadelphia Department of Public Health will be holding its first community mass vaccination clinic on Tuesday, part of a rotating series aimed at establishing distribution points in neighborhoods around the city.

Teachers and other school-based workers will begin receiving their injections Monday, with thousands expected to be inoculated in the coming weeks.

Over the weekend, the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium vaccinated more than 4,000 during a 24-hour clinic at Temple University’s Liacouras Center.

After a roll-out that left many frustrated, the inoculation campaign appears to be entering a new gear, just as the country nears a grim milestone of 500,000 coronavirus-related deaths.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, along with other federal entities, will staff the site at the Convention Center, which could open as early as March 3. Any doses distributed at the facility will be in addition to Philadelphia’s weekly vaccine allotment.

“The federal government will be deploying teams immediately to work hand in hand with state and local jurisdictions to get these sites set up, and we expect them all to be up and running in the next two weeks,” top White House COVID-19 advisor Andy Slavitt told reporters Friday.

FEMA officials said the site selection process centered on finding the right spot to serve vulnerable populations. They cited the Convention Center’s downtown location, public transit access, logistics capability, size and existing city contracts as reasons for picking the venue.

“Every city in the country, including Philadelphia, is currently struggling with not having enough COVID vaccine to meet the demand of their residents, so this center will make a huge difference,” Mayor Jim Kenney said in a statement.

“It’s a key step to recovery and getting our city that much closer back to normal,” he continued.

The Convention Center’s first vaccine operation, and the city’s first mass clinic of the pandemic, ended in disgrace after serious questions arose about the organization behind it, Philly Fighting COVID, and its 22-year-old CEO Andrei Doroshin.

The Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium vaccinated more than 4,000 during a 24-hour clinic at Temple University’s Liacouras Center this weekend. REUTERS/Hannah Beier

Leaders in the Kenney administration have favored the Convention Center over other large venues, most notably the South Philadelphia sports complex.

City Councilman Allan Domb, who has been leading a push to have Lincoln Financial Field used as a FEMA vaccination site, demanded the mayor’s office provide details about how the Convention Center will handle the rush of people coming for vaccines.

He also asked Kenney to explain why the Convention Center is a better option than the stadium area.

Council, during its session on Thursday, passed a Domb-sponsored resolution calling on the Kenney administration to immediately include the Linc in its vaccination plans.

Starting this week, the health department will be holding one-day mass vaccination clinics, beginning Tuesday at Martin Luther King Older Adult Center in North Philadelphia, according to spokesman Jim Garrow.

On Thursday, doses will be distributed at the Community Academy of Philadelphia Charter School in Harrowgate, and a clinic will be held at the University of the Sciences in West Philadelphia on Saturday.

Each location plans to inoculate about 500 people.

The sites will be appointment-only, with the health department contacting people who registered through the city’s vaccine interest form at Residents without internet access can call 311 to sign up.

Garrow said people cannot call the vaccination locations to set up appointments.

Health Commissioner Thomas Farley has said his department plans to host three such clinics a week for residents receiving their first dose, and three additional for those getting their second dose.

About 165,000 Philadelphians, or just over 10% of the city’s population, have received at least one shot.