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January 29, 2021

Philly Fighting COVID CEO taunts city health commissioner as Mayor Kenney stands by him

Andrei Doroshin claimed Dr. Thomas Farley failed to come up with a 'real' COVID-19 vaccination plan, forcing the city to turn to his beleaguered start-up company

Government COVID-19
COVID Doroshin Farley Gov. Tom Wolf/Via Flickr

Andrei Doroshin, CEO of Philly Fight COVID, is calling on Philadelphia Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley, above, to step down, suggesting he failed to come up with a 'real' COVID-19 vaccination plan.

The 22-year-old head of Philly Fighting COVID, the vaccine partner dropped by the city amid disturbing allegations this month, has called for Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley to step down from his post in the aftermath of the local scandal.

Andrei Doroshin, CEO of the nine-month-old start-up, held an impromptu press event Friday in which he decried Philadelphia's "dirty power politics."

"Where is Dr. Farley now?" Doroshin said. "Is he at the Convention Center vaccinating thousands of people, like he should be? Has he come out with a real plan? Or did a 22-year-old and his college friends have to do that for him?"

Doroshin said Farley should be replaced by Deputy Health Commissioner Dr. Caroline Johnson, offering praise for her collaboration in building a mass vaccine model. His company claimed earlier this month that it could administer 50 times the number of daily vaccines delivered during the H1N1 crisis. 

The city's vaccine supply remains greatly limited, with efforts focused on health care employees, high-risk groups and essential workers. Officials expect it will take months before the vaccine becomes widely available to all Philadelphia residents who seek it. 

Reached Friday afternoon, the health department declined to respond directly to Doroshin's remarks, though spokesperson James Garrow added that the continued allegations against Philly Fighting COVID "reinforce that we made the right decision."

Doroshin, a neuroscience grad student, and his organization came under fire amid a slew of troubling claims about the group's practices.

Philly Fighting COVID provided first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to thousands of Philadelphia residents during several mass vaccination clinics held at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. The group was given about 6% of the city's vaccine allocation to administer to priority groups.

Philadelphia broke ties with Philly Fighting COVID early this week after learning the company had established a for-profit arm, updated its terms of service to allow for the sale of personal data collected on its website, and discontinued COVID-19 testing services that had been run in partnership with the city for months.

There also were alarming allegations from volunteers who participated in the group's vaccine clinics, including claims that vaccine doses were administered by people without appropriate medical training or supervision.

Doroshin, facing heavy criticism, has admitted to additional claims that he personally administered vaccines to four friends who were not among the priority groups eligible to receive them. He defended the decision, calling it his own mistake, but not the fault of the organization. 

And on Friday, WHYY reported that Philadelphia City Councilman Bobby Henon, a defender of Doroshin and Philly Fighting COVID, received specially arranged at-home testing for family members in December.

Many of the allegations surrounding Philly Fighting COVID are being reviewed by the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office and the Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office.

Doroshin has denied that any personal medical information collected from Philadelphia residents on the group's vaccine pre-registration website has been sold to third parties.

On Friday, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney directed the Philadelphia Department of Public Health to take corrective measures in response to the split from Philly Fighting COVID.

In a letter to Farley, Kenney praised the health commissioner's leadership during the pandemic, but said the issues that occurred with Philly Fighting COVID need to be addressed and prevented in the future.

"I am disappointed by what has transpired with the organization Philly Fighting COVID," Kenney said. "I know you share my concerns on how these events can cast a shadow on what is the most important project facing our city — vaccination."

The letter outlined several requirements the health department must now follow:

•Hold clinics to ensure that everyone who received a first dose of vaccine from PFC gets their second doses on time and from professionals who are qualified to administer it.

•Immediately allocate all first doses that had been previously allocated to PFC to the other health care organizations currently administering vaccines, with a special focus on providing an enhanced number of doses to the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium.

•Produce a public report within 30 days detailing how PFC came to work with the health department in both testing and vaccination. The report must identify weaknesses in the vetting process that could have prevented the present outcome and provide a set of intended improvements.

•Add Commerce Director Michael Rashid to any committees constituted to review proposals to provide COVID-19 testing or vaccination services in partnership with the health department.

Members of the Philadelphia House Democratic Delegation also called for Farley's resignation Friday, citing the incautious process that led to the partnership with Philly Fighting COVID.

"While in the crisis of our lifetime, the ball was dropped and left Philadelphians at risk, both for their personal information and their personal safety," state Rep. Jason Dawkins said. "Dr. Farley has worked hard for Philadelphia, but in a moment when people's lives are in jeopardy and when the world is watching, we cannot have such horrible decisions putting the lives and health of our citizens so at risk. 

"The loss of the public’s trust requires that we have a change at the department. Things need to change to ensure everyone has a sense of security moving forward."

During a press briefing Tuesday, Farley acknowledged that his department made a mistake entrusting vaccine distribution to Philly Fighting COVID. He maintained that the primary goal of getting Philadelphians vaccinated quickly was largely a success, however. 

"Obviously in retrospect, it wasn't good for us to have a partnership with that organization," Farley said. "We'll see what sort of additional things we might do to check up on another organization working with us."

The health department has assured all Philadelphians who received a first dose of the vaccine from Philly Fighting COVID that they will get their second doses on time. The city is in the process of working out logistics for these vaccinations and plans to seek a new partner for future efforts.

"Anything that looks like a glitch in the distribution process is going to be ... frustrating for people," Farley said. "I understand that. It will not, overall, slow down our vaccination process."

In his letter, Mayor Kenney praised Farley's data-based pandemic guidance for helping Philadelphia achieve the lowest per capita rate of new COVID-19 cases in the region.

"You and your team have my confidence, and most importantly, the full force of the city government at your disposal to complete this latest, and vital mission," Kenney said.

The health department acknowledged receipt of Kenney's letter and committed to addressing the faults that led to the relationship with Philly Fighting COVID.

"We acknowledge that this situation is frustrating and we need to work to rebuild the public’s trust in our vaccination program," Garrow said. "The first step in rebuilding that trust is acknowledging the problem and identifying and working to implement solutions to ensure it will never happen again."