Philadelphia continues to struggle with the COVID-19 pandemic, facing a vaccine shortage and a high death rate for its Black residents. But that hasn’t deterred Andrei Doroshin, CEO of the mass vaccination clinic, Philly Fighting COVID (PFC) from prioritizing vaccinations for his friends.
According to NBC Philadelphia reporters Rudy Chinchilla and Brian X. McCrone, 22-year-old Doroshin started his company as a nonprofit to help to distribute personal protective equipment (PPE) like masks and gloves, as well as performing COVID-19 tests early on when the pandemic erupted. When vaccines began to get approved by the CDC and city distribution plans had ramped up, the company became operator of the city’s first mass vaccination site.
And that’s when things allegedly fell apart. Nobody in PFC’s leadership team actually had any sort of advanced medical degrees. The group is said to have transitioned from a nonprofit company to a for-profit company without alerting the city to the change. They then began billing insurance companies for the COVID-19 vaccines they were administering, even though they were getting them from the city for free. The company also collected and possibly sold personal information concerning thousands of city residents.
If all of that weren’t bad enough, now comes news that the city of Philadelphia not only entered into a vaccine distribution arrangement with a virtually unknown health care company that was less than a year old; its CEO and employees may have also absconded with more than 200 vaccine doses, illegally distributing them to friends and family members.
In a Today show interview following news of the scandal, Doroshin admitted that he took some vaccines home with him to vaccinate his friends. This, even though as many as 3,000 people who were eligible for vaccination in the city that day were turned away and told no more vaccine doses were available. The city’s local radio station WHYY revealed reports of unvetted site volunteers taking pictures and injecting friends and family members with the vaccine in a “free-for-all.”
Although an on-site volunteer working for Philly Fighting COVID tweeted that she’d seen Doroshin take home a “Ziplock bag-full of vaccines,” the disgraced CEO told Today’s Stephanie Gosk that he’d only administered four doses offsite, all of which had been leftover and were about to expire. Doroshin maintained he and his group made calls looking for people at high risk who qualified for a shot but could not find anyone. Today’s Scott Stump also reported that despite his actions, Doroshin has also defended his decision to inject his friends himself, despite not being a registered nurse — a clear violation of CDC requirements laid out for anyone who is administering the vaccine.
With such an incredible and scandalous disaster unfolding, the city’s decision to work with PFC has also rightfully come under fire.
“Why we have to rely on an organization that is less than nine months old, started by students primarily to produce PPE and not by organizations that have a vetted track record around helping people address COVID-19, is beyond me,” Councilwoman Katherine Gilmore Richardson told NBC. “I’m flabbergasted, I’m dismayed and I’ll never understand how this happened.”
Chinchilla and McCrone have reported that Doroshin has defended his decision to attempt turning a profit with his company by billing insurance companies for the free vaccines they received because he claimed “the donations the group was receiving were not enough to cover the costs of running the vaccination clinics.” However, reports from WHYY and Billy Penn have since indicated that Doroshin had always intended to make a profit; a former volunteer at PFC told the news outlets that Doroshin openly “bragged about using the opportunity to become a millionaire.”
While it’s too early to know if Doroshin will face criminal charges for his actions, Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner and Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro are said to be looking into the matter. Philadelphia City Council members are also demanding further investigation into the group’s actions.
Sadly, despite whatever may or may not happen to Doroshin, the damage to the Black community in Philadelphia has already been done. As far back as July, the city’s Black citizens accounted for nearly 60% of hospitalizations from the virus in the city. In a post published on Medium, Philadelphia Public Health wrote that “the highest COVID-19 infection, hospitalization and death rates in Philadelphia are in African Americans.” And as vaccinations have become available, they soon appeared to be going in disproportionately high numbers to the city’s white citizens. NBC Philadelphia has reported that nearly 120,000 white people in the city have been vaccinated for COVID-19 compared to fewer than 4,000 Blacks. (It is worth noting, however, that 60,000 vaccinations have been given to people whose race wasn’t tracked.)
In an opinion column, the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Solomon Jones wrote: “The Philly Fighting COVID debacle, where a group of self-described ‘college kids’ with little-to-no medical experience was given a city partnership to run a mass vaccination program, is more than a national embarrassment. It could very well worsen the Black community’s mistrust of the COVID-19 vaccine — a mistrust our community can’t afford.”
Jones continued: “If we are going to vaccinate the Philadelphians who need it most, the City must work with those who have already engaged with the affected communities. Giving [vaccination responsbilities] to students with no medical experience and with no connection to the people is unjustifiable. Not only does it breed the kind of apparent incompetence we saw with Philly Fighting COVID’s handling of vaccine doses. It also bolsters skeptics who believe the vaccine is meant to destroy Black people.”
D.I. Fast Facts
Number of COVID-19 vaccine doses that were administered by Philly Fighting COVID before the company was forced to shut down its operations.
— The Today Show