Philadelphia health officials are parting ways with the start-up Philly Fighting COVID, which had been providing testing and vaccines to the city’s residents, after the company suddenly changed to a for-profit venture.
The Philadelphia Department of Public Health announced its decision on Tuesday, according to ABC, and cited the company’s change in corporate status as the reason for ending the partnership. The non-profit switched to a for-profit company without the city’s knowledge, raising concerns that the shift would allow Philly Fighting COVID to sell patients’ data.
"The City has not been notified of any of these data having been sold. But for PFC to have made these changes without discussion with the City is extremely troubling. As a result of these concerns, along with PFC's unexpected stoppage of testing operations, the Health Department has decided to stop providing vaccines to PFC," said James Garrow, a spokesperson for the health department.
This move comes after more than 5,000 residents were vaccinated at a Philly Fights COVID mass clinic. During the clinic about 2,500 healthcare workers were vaccinated in over two days at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.
The decision also follows allegations that Philly Fights COVID misallocated vaccines, though officials did not cite this as part of their reason to part ways with the company. One registered nurse who was at the clinic told WHYY that she witnessed the start-up's CEO Andrei Doroshin pack up and take home unused vaccines on Saturday.
“They ended the day with a significant number of unused vaccines,” 29-year-old Katrina Lipinsky told the NPR affiliate. “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.”
The 22-year-old CEO and Drexel graduate student, who has no prior healthcare experience, later posted photos on Snapchat that reportedly showed him administering a syringe in a private residence. It’s unclear if he actually vaccinated anyone using the doses from Philly Fights COVID.
On that same day, the start-up had reportedly turned away people who had signed up to receive the vaccine. Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley expressed regret at partnering with the company.
“They had what looked like a good plan,” Farley said during a COVID-19 briefing on Tuesday. “This other information came to light subsequently.”
Lipinsky also told WHYY that the nine-month-old start-up had pre-med and nursing students administering the vaccine without close supervision.
“They were running around like kids at the end of the day vaccinating each other,” she said.
The city is working to allocate the company's vaccines to other providers, and will “ensure that people who were vaccinated at PFC's clinics at the Convention Center can get their second dose.”