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March 16, 2021

COVID-19 vaccine site at Pa. Convention Center to reserve shots for eligible walk-ups – no appointment needed

Philadelphia also says it's on track to inoculate anyone who wants the vaccination starting May 1

Prevention Vaccines
FEMA Philly Walkups Thom Carroll/for PhillyVoice

From Wednesday, March 17 through Monday, March 22, the COVID-19 vaccination center at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia will accept walk-ups who meet phase 1A or 1B requirements and live in one of 22 ZIP codes with low vaccination rates.

FEMA's Center City COVID-19 vaccination site will reserve half its daily vaccine supply, beginning Wednesday, for people who show up at the convention center clinic without an appointment, are part of the eligible group to receive the vaccine and live within specific ZIP codes in the city, Philadelphia officials said.

These walk-up vaccination slots at the Pennsylvania Convention Center clinic will be available to those who meet the criteria of phases 1A and 1B of Philadelphia's vaccine distribution plan. Separately, city officials announced Philadelphia will move to phase 2 of its vaccine distribution plan on May 1, which makes everyone older than 16 eligible to be vaccinated.

FEMA's Center City Vaccination Site provides shots to about 6,000 people each day. The city health department will continue to reach out by phone and email to schedule appointments for about 3,000 people daily. The remaining 3,000 vaccine doses will go to eligible residents from these 22 ZIP codes.

• West and Southwest Philadelphia: 19104, 19131, 19139, 19142, 19143, 19151, 19153
• North Philadelphia: 19122, 19132, 19133, 19134, 19140
• Northeast and Lower Northeast Philadelphia: 19116, 19120, 19124, 19135, 19136, 19138, 19141, 19144, 19149, 19152

Presently, only residents in those areas of the city who are also eligible as part of phases 1A or 1B (which now includes people 65 and oldercan show up without appointments. Those who live in the ZIP codes above must provide evidence of their address using an ID card, a piece of mail with an address or a PHL City ID.

Philadelphia health officials said Monday, that residents in the selected parts of the city above are being vaccinated at 25% of the rate of those who live in Philadelphia ZIP codes with the highest vaccination rates, highlighting an ongoing problem with reaching all communities in the city. 

Walk-up dates in Center City will run for six days from Wednesday, March 17, through Monday, March 22. The timeframe for walk-ups during these days is between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. People must enter the FEMA clinic from the northeast corner of 12th and Arch streets, after being screened by staff outside the Convention Center

Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley said people who aren't eligible to get the vaccine yet and anyone who isn't a Philadelphia resident will be turned away. For those who get turned away, staff at the convention center clinic will assist them to get registered to be notified when they can schedule vaccine appointments in the future. 

Those who are eligible for walk-ups may encounter long wait times and some may be told they need to return on another day. Those who can't be vaccinated will either be given a scheduled vaccine appointment on another date or told to return as a walk-up on another day. 

"Expect that you may have to wait," Farley said. "And you may have to wait outdoors, so come dressed for the cold and be prepared. If there are too many people that come, you may be asked to come back another day."

The health commissioner said the situation may be somewhat unpredictable, but allowing some walk-ups is needed to ensure that the vaccine is distributed across the city's eligible population.

"We'll have people monitoring this very closely on the scene," Farley said. "If we find that we have many, many people come in the first few hours, we'll cut off the line and say no more people today. We'll get a message out through a variety of channels, including text messages, that we're full for today, so please don't come down after that point."

The health department encourages those going to the FEMA clinic — whether for walk-ups or with an appointment — to use public transportation. The Convention Center is located near Jefferson Station and is accessible using several bus and train routes.

The city and SEPTA are working with community partners to distribute free roundtrip transit passes for those in the targeted ZIP codes for the walk-up clinic. SEPTA CCT rides will be available free-of-charge for those who are 65 years of age or older and coming from an eligible ZIP code.

"We're going to be offering assistance in transportation from those under-vaccinated areas of the city — two days at a time," Farley said. "It will be two days we're providing assistance in transportation from West and Southwest Philadelphia, two days in North Philadelphia, and two days in areas of the Northeast and Lower Northeast."

The city hopes to expand walk-up COVID-19 vaccination opportunities in the coming weeks and months. Part of the motivation for the change at the FEMA clinic is that the city has had difficulty ensuring appointments are filled and attended by residents from priority ZIP codes who have received time slots through the vaccine interest database.

"The vaccine interest form process has done a lot of good and it helps direct people to appointments. There's been a huge demand relative to supply," Farley said. "But it's not perfect. There are some people (who find) putting their name in the database and then scheduling an appointment is a complicated process and they may not be able to get through. Over the longer term, I would like to have more walk-in availability."

Some in the vaccine interest database have received invites to the FEMA clinic but have encountered problems scheduling appointments. Farley acknowledged this, saying these residents will continue to receive invitations because the city tracks who has received a vaccine among those in the database. Sometimes the city overestimates how many appointment slots will be available.

"It's possible that we may have overestimates," Farley said. "Everybody who's in the database and who's eligible over the next six days will be invited for at least two different days. If they can't make one day, then they have an opportunity another day. And if they don't make either of those days, then other opportunities will be sent to them."

As of Tuesday, Philadelphia has administered 378,000 first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine and 142,000 second doses. About 16% of Philadelphia residents are known to be at least partially vaccinated, including about 38% of people in Philadelphia who are 75 or older, Farley said.

At the FEMA clinic, at least 79,000 people have been vaccinated as of Monday. Last week, at least 96,000 COVID-19 vaccinations were administered in Philadelphia, a number that has been rising and will likely total more than 100,000 once all data is collected.

Farley said the health department expects Philadelphia to enter phase 1C – which includes essential workers with lower risks of exposure – some time in April and will begin phase 2 on May 1, which will make the vaccine available to everyone at least 16 years old.

Philadelphia reported 312 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, raising the citywide total to 117,768 since the start of the pandemic. Over the past week, based on available data, the city averaged 262 new cases per day and a test positivity rate of 5.0%. Those numbers are expected to rise. The week before that, Philadelphia averaged 275 cases per day and a test positivity rate of 3.9%.

The current trend in cases has given Farley pause about Gov. Tom Wolf's  announcement on Monday that Pennsylvania will ease additional restrictions and raise occupancy limits on April 4.

Philadelphia has not yet committed to making these changes, which include increasing indoor dining capacity levels to 75%, resuming bar service and further increasing attendance at large indoor and outdoor events. An update on the city's timeline for restrictions is expected some time in the next week.

"Case counts are not going down. If anything, they're going up. We're still having plenty of people die from this infection, and I'm worried that so many people are eager to get back to normal that we may be opening up too quickly," Farley said. "We're going to look at this, and if we feel that it's safe and it's OK for Philadelphia to be aligned with Pennsylvania, we will do that and that'll make it simpler for everyone. But if we feel that our residents need more protection, we may be more restrictive."

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