Philly Fighting Covid scandal, response hits close to home for Drexel community | The Triangle

Philly Fighting Covid scandal, response hits close to home for Drexel community

It has almost been a month since the COVID-19 vaccine stopped being distributed to the city’s biggest clinic, Philly Fighting COVID, after it became a for-profit organization and made controversial privacy policy changes. The Drexel and Philadelphia communities at large are still feeling the effects. 

Philly Fighting COVID was founded by Andrei Doroshin — a Drexel BS/MS Psychology student at the College of Arts and Sciences — along with other alumni and faculty of the university who, as members of their executive board, saw a great opportunity in times of crisis. The attempt ended up being the biggest example of how “Ambition Can’t Wait” went completely wrong. 

The organization began by fabricating face shields with 3D printers; then, it was granted the opportunity by the Philadelphia Health Department to run a testing site at the Fillmore; and finally, it ran the vaccination site at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in January. However, people began to question if the initial intention was purely altruistic or to turn a profit for themselves. 

The first red flag was when PFC abruptly stopped offering free testing to community groups who were promised service, canceling just hours in advance under the excuse of lack of planning with juggling vaccinations and tests at the same time. Although vaccines are crucial to stop the virus, testing is also extremely important to stop its spread. It is disheartening to see how PFC made promises to underserved communities, only to leave them stranded.

However, it was because of PFC’s great initiative at the Fillmore testing center that the Philadelphia Health Department decided to trust its staff with the most requested service in the world today: COVID-19 vaccination. 

PFC was also the first to find out about the necessary paperwork needed to request vaccination doses to the CDC, according to statements that the founder of the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium, Ala Stanford, gave to Philadelphia Magazine. The Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium is another private group that — like PFC — offered testing for months before beginning vaccinations. Both Doroshin and Stanford were in the city’s vaccine advisory committee, but one organization received the crucial information earlier than the other; curiously enough, it was the one run without a single doctor or public health specialist on their board.

Throughout the time PFC offered vaccinations, its system was well-organized and it was able to reach record-breaking numbers of vaccine distribution in Philadelphia. PFC was the first to offer vaccines to independent healthcare workers, who, while unaffiliated with any hospital, were still part of phase 1A. Then it was able to offer vaccines to people over 75 years of age when their phase began — reaching over 2,000 people in a weekend. Truly, no one expected that such an efficient vaccination model could end up harming a whole city with the unethical mistakes of a policy clause, which allowed the sale of private information and four stolen vaccine doses.

This big mistake left thousands in limbo, in-between doses or with scheduled shots. It especially hurt unaffiliated healthcare workers and those in phase 1B in vulnerable communities that could not receive the vaccine earlier. This resulted in the most costly “for-profit” change, not only for the PFC board but also for the whole city of Philadelphia — and it could have been avoided if PFC’s leaders had been more professional.

Since the beginning, PFC was categorized as an organization run by “college kids,” and has now tainted the city’s trust in many other great student-run nonprofits and enterprises that mean well for the Philadelphia community. 

The name of our university continues to make headlines with negative connotations after this scandal. When Doroshin was asked by The Philadelphia Inquirer about why he over exaggerated in his biography (posted on the PFC’s webpage), he responded: “I’m from Drexel, we all do that. Who didn’t when they were 22 to pump their resume up?” This is specifically disappointing for our student population, who attend a co-op university and graduate with more professional experience than the average student, giving us no need to misrepresent our resumes.

Nonetheless, there is no doubt that the Drexel student population most affected by PFC’s wrongdoings are the hundreds of nursing, medical, pre-med, public health and biology students who volunteered for them. These students had been volunteering for them for months since they only offered testing services, and the number of volunteers had increased dramatically up until news of the scandal broke. This was a great opportunity for Drexel students to gain medical experience within their local community and help their city during a crisis. PFC and the College of Nursing and Health Professionals were even in an agreement for nursing students to work clinical hours at vaccination sites. Now, those opportunities have been lost.

These students volunteered exhausting multiple shifts of up to 12 hours a day in full PPE under nurse practitioner supervision, and all of them volunteered at the vaccination site for free. Some of the volunteers who worked at the testing sites told The Triangle that they were offered a stipend for their volunteering hours but, in some cases, not even that promise was kept. Now, many feel they have been taken advantage of and robbed an opportunity since PFC’s fall from the Philadelphia Health Department’s good graces.

Amid all of this controversy, the fact remains that the vaccine needs to be distributed to Philadelphians. Although Drexel is not responsible for the actions of PFC’s leaders, it does have a responsibility moving forward in considering how it will aid vaccine distribution within both the university and the city. Drexel and its administration are not yet operating any vaccine clinics or broader distribution, but it is offering the space in Behrakis Grand Hall and Creese Student Center for the city to use as a vaccination center. Drexel has also stated that it is willing to offer further assistance. In light of what has happened with PFC, Drexel should ensure that the organizations it works with moving forward do so in a competent, ethical and equitable manner so that the vaccine can be distributed as efficiently as possible with priority given to those who are in the most need.