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As the Philadelphia Department of Public Health continues efforts to restore trust and order in the city’s vaccination program, a new set of emails are causing confusion.
People who’d scheduled appointments with Philly Fighting COVID before the city cut ties are receiving confirmation messages to get their first shots at the Pennsylvania Convention Center this weekend. Those appointments are bogus — and there are several tips you can use to tell (see below). Some follow-up cancelation messages have also been sent out.
The Health Department is in fact running at the Convention Center this weekend for former PFC patients. But it’s only to give people their second doses, not their first.
“Some people who previously set appointments with PFC are getting reminders for appointments that have been canceled,” said Health Department spokesperson James Garrow, who provided an official statement with apology:
We believe that PFC has canceled all of their scheduled appointments after we reached out to their vendor. The Health Department apologizes for the confusion that this situation has created. Everyone that received their first dose of COVID vaccine through Philly Fighting Covid should have had their second appointment rescheduled through the Health Department. Anyone that has received one of these emails and wants to check on the status of their appointment at an upcoming Health Department clinic should contact the Health Department at email@example.com.
The extra, incorrect reminder emails were sent by a third-party platform, Garrow said.
“Philly Fighting COVID outsourced to a third-party company to do their reminder emails, but never cancelled those emails once they were shut down,” Garrow said. PFC was officially kicked out of the vaccine program on Jan. 25, after Billy Penn, WHYY, and other local news outlets brought to light many red flags around the company, including lack of experience and improper activity.
Garrow confirmed that the third-party company sending the appointment confirmations is a Maryland-based nonprofit called Multi-State Partnership for Prevention, a subsidiary of the Maryland Partnership for Prevention, founded in 1999.
It is also, Garrow said, the same clinic management software used by the City of Philadelphia.
But the Health Department’s contract was completely separate from the one held by Philly Fighting COVID, “making the challenge of shutting those emails down harder,” Garrow said. After the city reached out, the third-party company was eventually able to send a fix.
Here are some ways to tell if your appointment confirmation is real or not.
Check for a match (you don’t want one)
If you remember the time and date you originally signed up for with Philly Fighting COVID, compare that to what comes in your confirmation email.
If the date and time are the same, it means the appointment is not valid.
“If they are the same,” spokesperson Garrow said, “it means PFC sent the message, and that appointment has been cancelled.”
Check the time
If the appointment says it’s after 5 p.m., it’s not valid, per Garrow, because all Health Department clinics currently close at that time.
Check the date
If the confirmation arrives more than a day before your scheduled time, it’s from the old system. The Health Department sends confirmation emails exactly one day prior to appointment, per Garrow (unless a patient specifically requests otherwise).
Is it your first dose?
Only second doses are being given at the Convention Center on the weekend of Feb. 6-7, Garrow confirmed. So if you didn’t get the jab yet, sorry, but you’re still in line.
Still not sure? Send a note
If you’re still unsure whether your appointment confirmation is real or not, you can send an email to the Health Department at firstname.lastname@example.org to check.
If you never got an appointment in the first place
Many people in Philadelphia haven’t been able to sign up for a COVID-19 vaccine appointment at all, even if they pre-registered online.
The Health Department’s official registry was launched two weeks ago, after the city began distancing itself from Philly Fighting COVID.
Officials are asking all city residents to express their interest to get vaccinated by signing up there: phila.gov/vaccineinterest.