Philadelphia launches probe after huge COVID vaccine contract was given to ‘group of college kids’

Urgent questions are being asked as to how a self-described ‘group of college kids’ with little medical experience were put in charge of administering 6,750 doses of COVID-19 vaccine in Philadelphia.

Since January 8 the group, Philly Fighting COVID, has run a mass vaccination site at the Pennsylvania Convention Center – a deal that was abruptly ended on Monday, amid questions over its financial structure.

Philadelphia is famed for its medical research centers and excellent hospitals, and yet the vaccination program is carried out by volunteer organizations, due to a lack of funds. 

Their founder is a 22-year-old student, Andrei Doroshin, currently in the fifth year of a combined undergraduate/master’s psychology program at Drexel University. 

Andrei Doroshin, pictured, founded Philly Fighting COVID at the start of the pandemic

The group from January 8 held mass vaccination clinics at Pennsylvania Conference Center

The group from January 8 held mass vaccination clinics at Pennsylvania Conference Center

He initially begun making PPE with classmates, and then started offering COVID testing before transitioning to vaccinations – apparently without anyone vetting him or his team.

In October, WHYY reported, he practiced his pitch to his team, with a PowerPoint presentation detailing scheduling, staffing and safety protocols. 

The marketing plan hinged on inoculating local celebrities like Meek Mill to attract their fan base, the site reported.

He said his Philly Fighting COVID team had plans for the $2.7 million construction of five high-capacity sites that could take 10,000 patients a day.  

‘This is the juicy slide,’ Doroshin reportedly said, showing the financing plan. 

‘How are we gonna get paid?’ 

He told staff the plan was to get the vaccines for free from the federal government and bill insurance companies $24 a dose.

‘I just told you how many vaccines we want to do — you can do the math in your head,’ he said.

The student told his friends: ‘This is a wholly Elon Musk, shooting-for-the-heavens type of thing.

‘We’re gonna have a preemptive strike on vaccines and basically beat everybody in Philadelphia to it.’ 

On November 19, when he made his pitch to a meeting of City Council’s committee on public health and human services, no one asked about his medical qualifications, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported on Wednesday night.

‘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,’ said Councilmember Katherine Gilmore Richardson.

She told NBC 10: ‘I’m flabbergasted, I’m dismayed and I’ll never understand how this happened.’

Councilmember Katherine Gilmore Richardson said she was 'flabbergasted' at the news

Councilmember Katherine Gilmore Richardson said she was ‘flabbergasted’ at the news

Councilmember Cindy Bass is demanding a hearing into Philly Fighting COVID's actions

Councilmember Cindy Bass is demanding a hearing into Philly Fighting COVID’s actions 

Josh Shapiro, the attorney general of Pennsylvania, tweeted on Wednesday night: ‘Any consumers who believe they have been misled by Philly Fighting COVID should file a complaint with my office.’

Councilmember Cindy Bass, chair of the Council committee that held the November hearing, said her office on Tuesday drafted a resolution for a public hearing.

‘It is just very disturbing, very troubling, and we need answers,’ she said.

She wants her committee ‘to hold hearings to investigate the City’s vaccine contracting process, including an examination of Philly Fighting COVID’s contract with the City.’

Philadelphia Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said that, ‘in retrospect’, it had been a mistake to partner with the organization.

When asked why the city did not initially partner with Penn, Temple, or another respected medical facility for the vaccine rollout, Farley told The Philadelphia Inquirer he was not sure whether the organizations would have agreed to help, when they were already tasked with vaccinating their own staff. 

Yet Penn offered to ramp up community vaccination efforts as far back as November, well before the city started its non-contractual agreement with Philly Fighting COVID, WHYY confirmed.  

Tony Reed, chief medical officer at Temple University Hospital, told WHYY that in recent weeks Temple was happy to help.

‘We all said, ‘Tom, I think we’re at a point now that we have capacity to do more and more,’ Reed recalled saying at one of the weekly meetings health system chiefs have with the commissioner. 

‘I was running about 300 [vaccines] per day, I can do about 600-1,000 per day.’ 

Farley said the Public Health Department will ‘see what sort of additional things we might do to check up on any organization who works with us.’

‘In retrospect, this organization wasn’t good for us to have a partnership with that organization,’ Farley said.

People are pictured waiting inside a vaccination clinic in Philadelphia on Saturday

People are pictured waiting inside a vaccination clinic in Philadelphia on Saturday

City officials admitted on Tuesday that there are no contracts with organizations administering the vaccine on behalf of the city.

‘There is no contract with any provider that is giving out vaccines,’ said James Garrow, Public Health spokesman.

He said the city only required that organizations fill out a form.

‘Every organization that’s giving out vaccine in Philadelphia registered with the Health Department with a form that seeks to ensure that they can meet the minimum requirements for distributing vaccine,’ Garrow said.

‘There is no fiscal contract between the City and any COVID vaccine provider because the City hasn’t received any money at all from the federal government to distribute vaccine.’

The city has declined to make public the registration form that Philly Fighting COVID filled out to begin receiving doses.

Documents obtained by The Philadelphia Inquirer show that the city awarded more than $190,000 to Philly Fighting COVID, for COVID testing – not for vaccinations.

The city has not awarded the group any funding for vaccinations.

‘There was no money exchanged for them to run this clinic,’ said Farley. 

‘This was done on a voluntary basis.’  

A health department spokesperson confirmed it ultimately authorized more than $111,000 in invoiced charges for testing services by Philly Fighting COVID.

No one on the group’s all-white ‘executive team’, in a city 44 per cent black, has an advanced degree in public health or is an MD, Philly Magazine reported, although there are a few nurses and one doctor on the ‘operations team.’

Many staffers appear to be in their 20s.

The biographies have since been deleted. 

Doroshin claims, according to the magazine, to run three different businesses: a real estate firm, a biotech company, and the COVID organization, which he formed at the start of the pandemic with other students to produce PPE.

His biography on the Philly Fighting COVID webpage stated that he began his career as a director of photography for AND Productions in Los Angeles – ran by his father – then formed and taught at the Rancho Mirage Film Department, as part of his studies. He then resigned to start a nonprofit focused on air pollution, which produced a meme-heavy Twitter feed.

Questions have now also been raised over the team’s management of the vaccination rollout.

Medical professionals volunteered to assist with Philly Fighting COVID’s efforts. 

Katrina Lipinsky, a nurse, pictured receiving her vaccine, volunteered to help with the group

Katrina Lipinsky, a nurse, pictured receiving her vaccine, volunteered to help with the group

On Saturday a mass vaccination was planned for seniors, but the group, according to WHYY, had bungled a sign-up page that allowed dozens of people to make appointments online.

On arrival, many learned the clinic was overbooked.

‘There were literally 85-year-old, 90-year-old people standing there in tears, with printed appointment confirmations, saying, ‘I don’t understand why I can’t get vaccinated, I’m 85,’ said Jillian Horn, a Callowhill resident who tried to get inoculated this weekend.

A witness claimed to WHYY that at the end of the night there were still vaccines left over, despite staff having turned people away.

Katrina Lipinsky, a 29-year-old registered nurse who was on site that day, said she saw Doroshin pack a bundle of unused vaccines into his bag shortly after 7pm.

‘They ended the day with a significant number of unused vaccines,’ Lipinsky said. ‘Andrei walked pretty openly from the vaccine area over to his belongings and packed maybe 10 to 15 in his bag with CDC record cards.’

A photograph of Doroshin reportedly circulated to dozens of Snapchat users sometime after 8pm on Saturday, WHYY reported. 

It appeared to show him getting ready to administer an unspecified syringe off-site, according to three sources who saw the image and described it to WHYY.  

Lipinsky tweeted on Monday: ‘I feel terrible for the role I played in contributing to this operation.

‘While I vaccinated folks I’d ask them what they did for work. I vaccinated many, many people who did not fall into 1a or 1b categories. That’s when I started to realize it was a disaster of an operation. PFC gave it’s own volunteers BS answers when questioned on these problems.’

The City then announced it was ending the partnership with Doroshin’s organization, amid the allegations of misuse of vaccines and the group’s switch from a non-profit to a for-profit business.

The city also said the group’s privacy policy outlined ways personal information residents entered into the preregistration portal could be sold.

Doroshin denied misusing vaccines, and said in a statement on Tuesday that the switch to a for-profit company was so they could ‘expand our operations team and accelerate vaccine distribution’.

He has promised to hold a press conference on Friday to answer questions.

Some in the city praised Philly Fighting COVID’s work. 

Councilmember Bobby Henon, who also attended the opening of the vaccination site, said he has been impressed with the group’s work.

‘I believe that Philly Fighting COVID did a good job for the Health Department vaccinating Philadelphians,’ Henon told The Philadelphia Inquirer on Tuesday. 

‘It’s kind of odd that they are in this position when they were doing such a good job, and I hope it gets worked out.’

Dorothy Novick, a doctor who volunteered at the site on Saturday, tweeted: ‘Thank you @PhillyFightingCovid for the most inspiring day ever. 

‘Almost 2,000 vaccine doses delivered at the Philly convention center, and it ran like a well-oiled machine. 

‘These guys are amazing.’ 

Doroshin earlier this week said he was proud of their work. 

‘We’ve done the job,’ Doroshin told Philadelphia Magazine. 

‘We’ve delivered. That’s the crazy part. When somebody does the job and completes the contract, you don’t fire them; you say thank you.’ 

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