Philly’s coronavirus response

Who’s eligible for a COVID vaccine in Philly, and why it’s different from the rest of Pa.

The city has a direct relationship with the CDC because it has a history of good immunization programs.

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Mark Henninger / Imagic Digital
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About 250,000 more city residents are eligible for the COVID vaccine as of Monday with Philly’s move into what it defines as Phase 1C.

Most providers are still doing vaccinations on an invitation-only basis, and the Philadelphia Department of Public Health has directed them to prioritize certain groups within the Phase 1C category.

Per this mandate, first to be invited for appointments in the new category will be sanitation workers, maintenance and janitorial staff, utility workers, and postal and package delivery workers.

People who qualified in Phase 1A and 1B are also still eligible, including anyone over the age of 65. (Scroll down for a detailed list.)

What should you do if you’re eligible and haven’t gotten an appointment? Here’s a list of options:

On that last point, the health department is operating several once-a-week vaccination clinics at sites all over the city. These are usually appointment-only, but if the schedule doesn’t fill up on a given day, organizers sometimes open the doors to people who live nearby. The word is spread via community groups and other neighborhood-level organizations.

The Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium also holds walk-up clinics for people who live in the city’s most undervaccinated ZIP codes.

As of early April, more than 275k people have been fully vaccinated by organizations around the city, per health department data, and another 250k people have gotten at least one dose.

Why Philly’s schedule is different from the state

Pennsylvania has declared that all adult residents will be eligible for the vaccine by April 19. That’s not the case in the city, which is still targeting May 1 to open vaccination to the general public.

The separate programs are because Philly is one of five U.S. cities getting vaccine directly from the federal government. The others are Houston, Chicago, New York, and San Antonio.

Why these five? They have historically run good immunization programs, according to Philly Health Commissioner Tom Farley.  “In general, the CDC works with the states,” he said in mid-January, “but there are a small number of large cities with which the CDC has a relationship.”

Philly’s immunization registry, known as PhilaVax, was implemented back in 1994 as one of the first municipal registries in the U.S. Refined over three decades, it’s considered highly efficient, and is why Philadelphia was selected for the CDC’s pilot COVID vaccine planning program back in August, officials said at the time.

Because of this relationship, the city gets shipments of the Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson vaccine directly. It then distributes doses to various partner organizations, which include:

  • Hospitals
  • Federally Qualified Health Centers
  • Community clinics run by the health department
  • Pharmacies
  • Urgent care centers
  • Congregate care settings
  • Other community partners, like the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium and Temple University

To be clear, Philadelphia could opt to follow the same priority schedule as the state. But the health department’s Vaccine Advisory Committee came up with a slightly different plan they think better serves the city’s population, which has more people of color and low-income residents than many other parts of the state.

“This is one way for us to address the racial disparity of COVID mortality here in Philadelphia,” Farley said.

Philadelphia’s schedule of COVID vaccine eligibility

(See the city website for detailed definitions of each group)

Phase 1A

  • Hospital staff
  • COVID testing site
  • COVID vaccination & lab staff
  • Long-term care facility staff
  • Emergency medical services
  • Home health care
  • Prison health services
  • Outpatient clinics, FQHCs
  • Unaffiliated health care providers
  • Long-term care facility residents

Phase 1B

  • First responders
  • Service providers working with high-risk populations
  • Public transit
  • Food distribution, prep, or service
  • Child care, Education providers
  • High-volume essential retail
  • Manufacturing critical goods
  • Persons working in congregate residential settings
  • Persons residing in congregate settings
  • Persons age 65+
  • Persons with high-risk medical conditions

Phase 1C

  • Sanitation workers
  • Maintenance/janitorial workers
  • Utility workers
  • Postal and package delivery workers
  • Higher education
  • Finance
  • Transportation
  • Construction
  • IT & Telecommunications
  • Public health
  • Legal

Phase 2

  • Everyone 16 or older not previously immunized

Want some more? Explore other Philly’s coronavirus response stories.

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