coronavirus

How Did Philly Vet ‘Philly Fighting COVID' Group Before Giving It 1,000s of Vaccines?

Organizations administering the vaccine for the city have only been required to fill out a form that shows they "meet the minimum requirements for distributing the vaccine."

NBC Universal, Inc.

What to Know

  • The disclosure that the city didn't require contracts for vaccine administrators comes one day after it ended the relationship with a business called Philly Fighting COVID.
  • The city dumped Philly Fighting COVID over privacy and data concerns after it became known that the organization is for-profit.
  • The city health secretary said he will look at better ways to "check up on" organizations before partnering with them.

An organization called Philly Fighting COVID that was run by a 22-year-old Drexel University researcher received 6,950 doses of the coronavirus vaccine from the City of Philadelphia before the city abruptly ended the relationship Monday.

The partnership's termination came after the city was alerted by media reports that Philly Fighting COVID had become a for-profit business. There were concerns that the business, founded by Andrei Doroshin, could sell data provided by people seeking the vaccine.

On Tuesday, amid questions of the vetting process that the Philadelphia Public Health Department uses to evaluate vaccine partners, city officials acknowledged that there are no contracts with organizations administering the vaccine on behalf of the city.

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

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."

Health Secretary Dr. Thomas 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.

A spokesman for Mayor Jim Kenney declined to comment further.

Garrow did not immediately respond to a request for a list of organizations that have received COVID-19 doses from the city, or how many doses were given to each.

Out of the 6,950 doses given to Philly Fighting COVID, city health officials have records for 6,757 being administered. There are 193 that remain unaccounted for.

Doroshin has not responded to a request for comment. In a statement he released on Twitter, Doroshin said "we understand that there have been legitimate inquiries about our privacy policies."

"I apologize, for the mistake in our privacy policy," the statement said. "We never have and never would sell, share, or disseminate any data we collected as it would be in violation of HIPAA rules."

"We are here for Philly," he added.

More than 132,000 doses have been received by the city, as of Tuesday. Of those, 90,600 have been administered as first doses and 24,000 have been administered as second doses.

The city expected to receive 20,000 doses each week through the end of February.

Farley promised that anyone who received their first dose through Philly Fighting COVID would still get their second dose on time.

He also said Philly Fighting COVID has told the city they have no intention of selling the data. 

"We’re working with our Law Department to see if there’s any way we can ensure that doesn’t happen, and right now [Philly Fighting COVID is] saying there has been no release of that information," Farley said.

On Monday evening, the business added a privacy policy and terms of service agreement to its website. It also removed a page that listed the staff, including Doroshin. The page, however is still viewable in a cached version of the site.

The end to the partnership between the city and Philly Fighting COVID was first reported by WHYY.

"We are a bunch of nerds, engineers, and scientists that have come together to fight this pandemic," according to a line atop the team page.

Despite the assurances from Farley and a bolded statement on the website that reads, "*THE COMPANY WILL NOT SELL DATA TO ANY PARTIES," the privacy policy's language is less clear.

"We may share or transfer Your personal information in connection with, or during negotiations of, any merger, sale of Company assets, financing, or acquisition of all or a portion of Our business to another company," the policy reads under a section called "For business transfers."

Two law enforcement officials, Attorney General Josh Shapiro and District Attorney Larry Krasner, both said on Twitter that anyone who believes they know of misuse of vaccines to reach out to their offices.

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