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A group of elected officials and other leaders are calling on Philly Mayor Jim Kenney to speed up plans for a COVID-19 vaccine distribution site at Lincoln Financial Field. The city maintains that’s not in the cards.
The proposal to use the Eagles stadium for a mass vaccination clinic, which has few details, represents another political swipe at Kenney and Health Commissioner Tom Farley, who’ve come under scrutiny after the implosion of the city’s vaccine distribution partnership with Philly Fighting COVID.
There are too few doses available to set up a site at the Linc, the health commissioner said Tuesday — especially at a time when the city is trying to close the racial divide among recipients.
“I don’t think [the stadium] is the best way to get vaccine available right now,” Farley said. “Having something that’s more centrally located to Philadelphia neighborhoods and accessible to people who don’t have cars is more important to us right now.”
City Councilmember Allan Domb and a host of other current and former elected officials disagree.
The Kenney administration should be more forward thinking, Domb and allies say: As soon as the Biden administration makes more doses available, Philly should be prepared to deploy a network of mass clinics at the Linc, union halls and other large parking lots.
“At some point in time, the number of vaccinations we receive from the federal government increases dramatically, and when that occurs we want to be ready,” Domb told Billy Penn.
Meanwhile, residents in the city and throughout the region are less concerned about where they’ll get there shot than they are an efficient process to make an appointment and get in line. “Please provide less blame and more info about when and where we can get the vaccine,” Center City resident Susan wrote to Billy Penn last week.
President Joe Biden and NFL Commissioner Roger Godell have both expressed support for using the nation’s largely vacant football arenas to set up vaccine sites. Peer cities like New York, Boston and San Francisco have outfitted their stadiums as mass clinics as of this week. Bob Brady, Philly’s former U.S. Rep and current Democratic City Committee chair, said he personally talked to Kenney a few weeks ago to help make a similar plan happen — but his offer fell on deaf ears.
“I got shot down completely,” Brady said.
Caught in the middle of this political staring contest is the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium. Founder Dr. Ala Stanford said she thinks she would be able to run a mass clinic out of the South Philly sports complex in an equitable way, but not without a lot more planning and coordinated political will.
Black patients have so far received about 17% of Philadelphia’s vaccines supply, while 55% of the supply has gone to white patients, according to city data. Black residents make up nearly half the city’s population.
“I don’t want to do anything divisive,” Stanford said. “It needs to be cohesive and have the mayor bought in.”
Some officials and health leaders were hesitant about publicly casting doubt on the mayor and health commissioner’s stated plan. Domb claims partners will be ready to mobilize if the mayor gives the go ahead.
A spokesperson for the Eagles said the team has expressed interest in helping, but nothing is set in stone.
“We will await further guidance, but stand ready to help our community in any way possible to help ensure a safe and efficient vaccination process at our stadium,” the spokesperson said.
New clinics coming to Philly neighborhoods, but capacity unclear
Right now, Philadelphia only receives about 20,000 doses a week from the federal government, with well over 1.3 million residents still waiting to get their first shot.
The health department is currently running a mass vaccination clinic at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, and is looking to grow its roster by contracting with other vaccine distributors. In recent weeks, vaccines have been distributed to new pharmacy chains, federal qualified health centers and other medical providers.
This week, Farley announced three new hospital-run clinics slated to open in North Philadelphia and University City around Feb. 22.
Jim Garrow, a spokesperson for the health department, indicated the city would not stand in the way if one of its approved vaccine distributors wanted to take their dose allotment to the stadiums.
“If [the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium] agrees to set something up down there…that’s up to them,” Garrow said. Stanford’s group currently gets 2,500 doses a week, an increased allotment after the city cut ties with PFC.
Both Domb and Brady, the former U.S. Rep, insist that the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium should run the Lincoln Financial Field clinic and other efforts. BDCC, which applied for city funding to scale up its operations, is currently administering vaccines at the Liacouras Center and a number of churches in predominantly Black and Latino neighborhoods.
All told, the city’s current clinic network is giving out an average of more than 25,000 doses each week, but it’s unclear how quickly existing providers could ramp up the pace. Without a plan to dramatically up capacity, Domb believes the city could be in a position where they have more vaccines than they’re prepared to distribute.
“It’s ‘Go to your drug store or your local health center,’” Domb, who is a rumored mayoral candidate in 2022, said of Kenney’s plan. “This is not going to, in our opinion, accommodate mass vaccinations.”
Council has heaped significant criticism on the Kenney administration over the Philly Fighting COVID fiasco. A number of city lawmakers have now signed onto Domb’s plan, which he dubbed “the Philly Special” — a reference to the Eagles’ famous Super Bowl play.
Councilmember Bobby Henon was originally listed among the supporters, but now states he does not support the plan. Among the other supporters are state Sen. Sharif Street and his father, former Mayor John Street, as well as some union leaders.
Stanford is leading her own press conference on Wednesday stressing the importance of equity in vaccine distributions at the same time as Domb’s press conference announcing his plans at the Linc.
Council is not the first to push for a Linc stadium proposal.
The now-sidelined Philly Fighting COVID group had originally pitched a similar proposal to the city months ago, but the health commissioner shot that plan down as too ambitious and instead greenlit the group to distribute vaccines at the convention center.