Philadelphia Enlisted Start-Up ‘Group Of College Kids’ Without Medical Training To Administer Vaccines. It Was A Disaster.
A sign signifies the check-in location for people waiting to be vaccinated for the Covid-19 vaccine at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on December 16, 2020.

The City of Philadelphia enlisted the help of Philly Fighting COVID, a start-up describing itself as a “group of college kids” with little to no medical experience, to assist in administrating the coronavirus vaccine. Now the group is being questioned by city officials for bungling the distribution of vaccines, switching to a for-profit model without telling anyone, and allegedly stealing doses of the vaccine.

The Washington Post reported that prosecutors are also looking into the numerous allegations.

Prior to the downfall, the Post reported, Philly Fighting COVID was featured on NBC’s “Today,” explaining the company’s CEO Andrei Doroshin was a graduate student at Drexel University and had previously used 3-D printers to mass produce free face shields for frontline workers when the pandemic first started early last year. He also started several pop-up testing sites in Philadelphia.

On Tuesday, Philadelphia Magazine questioned how “a 22-year-old CEO with virtually no health-care experience got picked to run the first mass vaccination clinic in Philadelphia.” Doroshin, the CEO, pumped up his thin resume to sell himself as an entrepreneur. His bio on his company’s website claims his first job was as director of photography for AND Productions, which Philadelphia Magazine discovered was a company founded by Doroshin’s father with “no real online footprint.” Doroshin also claimed he taught at the Rancho Mirage Film Department, which was, in reality, a high school film class he “helped teach while he was a student there,” Philadelphia Magazine reported. Doroshin also said he founded a production company, but the company’s YoutTube channel includes one short film and “ videos of people longboarding and doing not-especially-impressive parkour routines.” The nonprofit Doroshin said he founded, Invisible Sea, “mostly consisted of a meme-heavy Twitter account, some minor community lobbying, and a fund-raiser with a $50,000 goal that netted $684.” By his own admission, Doroshin said his nonprofit “didn’t do very well.” Doroshin also told Philadelphia Magazine that he exaggerated his work at his dad’s company and that he was just a 14-year-old at the time. He told the magazine he probably shouldn’t have included that work on his bio page.

As for the rest of the organization, its chief science officer is a Drexel neuroscience professor who is also Doroshin’s academic adviser and an adviser to Doroshin’s other project, a real estate venture called Tala Resorts. Philly Fighting COVID’s head of systems graduated from Drexel in 2019 with a bachelor’s in biomedical engineering and claims to have ‘played important roles at Johnson & Johnson,’ though according to his LinkedIn profile, he only worked there for seven months while still in school,” Philadelphia Magazine reported.

There are at least a few nurses and one doctor on the group’s “executive team,” however.

The lack of know-how led to disaster. It started last week when WHYY reported that Philly Fighting COVID reneged on its commitment to hosting coronavirus testing clinics in some of Philadelphia’s predominantly Latino and Black neighborhoods. Siria Rivera told the outlet that the group had canceled on her community several times, but she still hoped that the last date they gave would be kept. People lined up to wait for tests, yet 30 minutes before testing was supposed to start, Rivera received an email from Philly Fighting COVID’s site manager saying that since the city asked the company “to set up a mass vaccination clinic this week,” they couldn’t “continue testing.” When Rivera pleaded with them to reconsider, since so many residents needed testing while also lacking health insurance, she received no response.

Two days earlier, Doroshin apparently announced on social media that it would no longer run its testing pop-ups, even though just weeks earlier, he said he would be adding additional testing sites. Doroshin allegedly gave no real notice to the communities relying on his testing sites.

The problems for Philly Fighting COVID only went downhill from there. The company bungled its sign-up form, accidentally accepting more appointments than it could keep, leading to dozens of seniors being turned away even though they had valid appointment confirmations. Katrina Lipinsky, a 29-year-old registered nurse-practitioner who had volunteered with the company to administer vaccines, told the Philadelphia Inquirer that she wasn’t even asked for her credentials before she was allowed to administer the vaccine. She also said she saw people who weren’t authorized to get vaccinated receiving a dose on January 16. On January 23, she said, canceled appointments led to leftover vaccines, so company staff told volunteers they could invite their own friends or family members to come get vaccinated. Lipinsky also said she saw Doroshin take 10 doses offsite.

As WHYY reported, the night Doroshin allegedly took the vaccine doses, a photo circulated around Snapchat of him “getting ready to administer an unspecified syringe off-site, according to three sources who saw the image.” The sources told the outlet independently that the image showed Doroshin “wearing a suit as he held a syringe before a seated person in what appears to be someone’s private residence.”

Doroshin denied taking the vaccines to Philadelphia Magazine.

Another volunteer told WHYY that Doroshin and other company executives bragged about getting rich.

“They weren’t even bragging about how they were helping the community,” the former volunteer told the outlet. “They were bragging about how rich they were going to get.”

Just two-and-a-half weeks after Philadelphia tapped Philly Fighting COVID to run the mass clinic, the city cut ties with the group, citing the numerous allegations against them.

Philadelphia Health Commissioner Thomas Farley called the allegations against Doroshin and his company “very disturbing” during a briefing on Tuesday. He called the city’s partnership with Philly Fighting COVID a mistake.

The decision to cut ties with the group was not due to the allegations detailed above, however. The decision was made after city health officials were informed the company had changed from nonprofit to for-profit without publicly explaining its decision. Another concern centered around Philly Fighting COVID’s privacy policy, which popped up on the group’s website just a week earlier and said it would sell users’ personal data and information to third parties. Doroshin said the inclusion of this language was a “mistake,” adding that it had been removed, the Post reported.

“We never have and never would sell, share, or disseminate any data we collected as it would be in violation of HIPAA rules,” he wrote in a statement on Tuesday. In that same statement, he apologized for “any miscommunications” that occurred when the company abandoned its pop-up testing sites for vaccine administration. He said he never meant to “cause confusion or harm” and that the company simply didn’t have the resources to do both. He also said they switched to for-profit because it was necessary for “scaling up,” the Post reported.

In addition to questions from city health officials, elected officials have their own questions, including Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, who is looking into potential criminal violations by Philly Fighting COVID. City council members are also reportedly asking for an investigation into why the organization was given such an important role in vaccine distribution.

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