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May 30, 2023

Documentary short follows Tarik Khan, the nurse practitioner who delivered COVID vaccines to Philadelphians

Khan became a local legend during the pandemic; now he's a state representative

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tarik khan.jpeg @TarikForPA/Facebook

Tarik Khan delivered expiring COVID-19 doses to homebound Philly residents before winning election to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives in 2022.

When the FDA approved COVID-19 vaccines for emergency use, millions of Americans gained their first real protection against the virus. The homebound, however, were still vulnerable, unable to visit pharmacies or doctor's offices due to physical and mental disabilities.

Enter Tarik Khan, the determined Philadelphia nurse practitioner who came up with a solution. He would bring the shots directly to them, running unused doses on the brink of expiration to homes across the city.

Khan's efforts — and his subsequent, successful run for office in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives — are captured in the documentary short "Angel Dose," now streaming on WHYY's website

"Angel Dose" isn't just the name of the movie, but the name of the vaccine program Khan started with current White House advisor Anna Perng. According to the film, he administered over 800 doses to Philadelphia residents, often cold calling them himself to see if they needed the vaccine before driving to their addresses. The operation was unofficial for some time, as Khan and Perng had no official authorization.

"We actually didn't tell anybody that we were doing it. We just did it," Khan says in the film. "We didn't ask anyone's permission — the health department, we didn't ask our administrators, we just did it. We had done over 100 doses before I started bringing them into it."

Khan is openly critical of the city's health department and former Philadelphia Health Commissioner Thomas Farley, whom he says "refused to acknowledge that we actually had extra doses because it was an inconvenient truth that yes, we are wasting a lot of doses." Philadelphia did not implement a homebound vaccine program until May 2021, several months after COVID vaccination was available to most groups. Khan's angel doses, then, were the only option for many in the disabled community for much of that year. 

"My parents always told me that it's a sin to waste something good," Khan told People in 2021. "And the vaccine is definitely something good."

Khan followed his mother, an emergency room nurse, into medicine. He began working as a nurse practitioner in 2011 and eventually served as president of the Pennsylvania State Nurses Association.

As the documentary shows, the born-and-bred Philadelphian was also in the middle of finishing a PhD at Penn and launching a first-time campaign for political office when he started administering the doses. The campaign was for Pennsylvania's 194th District, an area spanning Manayunk, Roxborough, East Falls and parts of Montgomery County. Khan mounted a challenge to six-term incumbent Pam DeLissio in the 2022 Democratic primary, pulling a stunning victory with 59% of the vote

He started his first term in January.

"Angel Dose" aired on WHYY on Monday night and will be available for streaming for the next 30 days. Watch it below:

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