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Philadelphia has a vaccine program separate from Pennsylvania because it’s 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

Danya Henninger is director and editor of Billy Penn at WHYY, where she oversees the team, all editorial decisions, and all revenue generation — including the membership program. She is a former food...