Philadelphia cuts ties with student’s group rolling out COVID-19 vaccine

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A 22-year-old student with no health expertise was put in charge of running a massive injection site to deliver thousands of doses of COVID-19 vaccine in Philadelphia – until the city cut ties with his startup after it changed its status from non-profit to for-profit, according to reports.

Drexel University graduate student Andrei Doroshin introduced himself to the City Council on Nov. 19 and shared his vision on how his Philly Fighting COVID outfit could undertake the bold project, which would require millions of dollars and hundreds of people, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

“Everybody is going to want to get a vaccine and it’s going to be a huge problem,” Doroshin told a committee on public health and human services that was hearing about the city’s vaccine-distribution preparedness, according to the newspaper.

“Philly Fighting COVID was created to help low-income communities with access to free medical care and testing,” he said. “I was called here to discuss the administration of this vaccine.”

Doroshin, has said he used his personal finances and donations to fund Philly Fighting COVID, which had budgeted $2.7 million to build five sites that would handle 10,000 patients a day, the outlet reported.

On that November day, he asked for the committee’s help and guidance in launching his ambition project – saying in a video call that his group had begun training staff and planned to hire about 500 people in a couple of months.

But no one on the committee asked Doroshin about his group’s health-care expertise as he assured it that his group — which consisted of himself and college pals — was up to handling the major task during the raging pandemic.

Two months later, the City of Brotherly Love finally cut ties with the fledgling organization, the paper reported.

This city said the group failed to immediately disclose its change to a for-profit business and its privacy policy, which describes the way private information can be sold.

Councilwoman Cindy Bass, the public health and human services committee chairwoman, told the Inquirer she felt “duped” and plans to call for hearings about the matter.

Committee Vice Chairman Bobby Henon said he was aware of Doroshin through his company’s work running COVID testing sites and considered the group a trustworthy partner.

He said he also trusted another group, the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium, which also had been testing the community and who whose founder, Dr. Ala Stanford, also spoke at the November meeting.

 “They already had a history of COVID testing Philadelphians so they had somewhat of an infrastructure,” Henon told the paper Wednesday, referring to both groups.

“I was always under the impression that those two groups had significant influence as a partner working with the Health Department to help support vaccinating the entire city. I never questioned either one of them,” he added.

Councilman Isaiah Thomas said he viewed Doroshin’s comments more like a “pitch” of his group, rather than expert testimony.

“He didn’t come off to us as the experts who we needed to be inquisitive towards to galvanize for information,” said Thomas, who called the ill-fated partnership “a huge mistake.”

Katrina Lipinksy, a registered nurse who volunteered with the group, told the Inquirer that it was “a disaster of an operation” that never requested her credentials before having her begin to inoculate people.

She also claimed to have seen Doroshin put aside several doses after many senior citizens were turned away on one occasion.

As a result of the fiasco, many people who got their first jab from Philly Fighting COVID don’t know where to get their second, though the Health Department says it will step in to help.

Documents obtained by the paper show the city awarded more than $190,000 to Philly Fighting COVID. A Health Department rep confirmed it ultimately authorized more than $111,000 in invoiced charges by the group, but the city has not awarded it any funding for vaccinations.

Until the city severed its ties with Philly Fighting COVID, it had run a mass vaccination site at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, where Doroshin said almost 7,000 people had gotten the shots.

The student first pitched his marketing plan to his partners though a PowerPoint presentation in October, telling them it hinged on vaccinating local celebrities like Meek Mill to attract their fan base, WHYY reported.

“This is a wholly Elon Musk, shooting-for-the-heavens type of thing,” Doroshin told them. “We’re gonna have a preemptive strike on vaccines and basically beat everybody in Philadelphia to it.”

He planned to eventually spread his operation to five major hubs and 20 smaller community sites, with plans to inoculate up to 1.5 million people, according to WHYY.  

“This is the juicy slide,” he said, pointing to a screen about the financing plan. “How are we gonna get paid?”

He described the plan to get the vaccines for free from the federal government and then bill insurance companies $24 a dose.

“I just told you how many vaccines we want to do — you can do the math in your head,” he said, the outlet reported.

City Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley said there had been no warning signs when Doroshin offered a plan that met the city’s health standards.

“I hope people can understand why on the surface this looked like a good thing,” Farley told WHYY. “In retrospect, we should have been more careful with this organization.”

Doroshin now claims he’s the victim.

“We did the job and what we promised. The only thing that got in the way was city politics,” Doroshin told The Inquirer in a text message. “We did what we said we would. After that, why do my credentials matter?”

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