Philly’s coronavirus response

How to get more people vaccinated? In Philly, by hosting a parade down Broad Street

A brass band, a rap emcee — and free vax clinics along the way.

Scene from a different kind of parade in Philadelphia, on Feb. 8, 2018

Scene from a different kind of parade in Philadelphia, on Feb. 8, 2018

Sydney Schaefer / Billy Penn
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UPDATE: The parade has been rescheduled for Aug. 29.

A little over 65% of Philadelphia adults are fully vaccinated against COVID, and 80% have gotten at least one shot of the vaccine.

But the numbers are much lower among younger adults — only about half of residents 18 to 44 have gotten one dose so far — and rates have seriously plateaued across all ages in the past month.

Enter the Vax Up Philly Parade.

A bunch of local communities — arts, health, and media — are coming together to host the rolling vaccination party on Sunday. Organized by Radio Kismet in collaboration with the Streets Dept blog and Jefferson Health, the event will travel up Broad Street from FDR Park to the start of North Philadelphia.

It will feature mini-concerts from boisterous brass band Snacktime Philly and global house music collective Worldtown Soundsystem.

Emceeing will be Amir “The Bul Bey” Richardson, a musician and rapper. He said the event came together quickly, in response to health data.

“This was something that came on as we saw the delta variant start to spike, and as we all started to realize that our fall plans were being ruined,” he said.

It’s important to him for a few reasons. As an artist, he’s had to limit his performances to virtual and small group moments. Richardson also shared that he lost his grandfather in February 2020, just as the virus was ramping up in the area, and family believes COVID-19 may have been the cause.

He can relate to Philadelphians who haven’t yet gotten vaxxed — because he was one of them.

“I, early on, was very skeptical of the vaccine,” said Richardson. He’s now vaccinated, and believes deeply in its importance. “In terms of our tools that we have to combat COVID, to control it as much as we can… the only thing that we have that we can count on are vaccines.”

Philly’s case rates and hospitalizations are climbing as a new local wave of the pandemic threatens to crest. About a month ago, Philly was averaging fewer than 30 new COVID infections a day. As of Aug. 16, that number was 200 daily cases — a 7x increase. Positivity rate is up too, averaging around 6%, compared to the city’s June low, which saw a positivity rate of less than 1%.

Vaccinated Philadelphians are one-eighth as likely to get COVID and 1/25 as likely to get seriously sick as people without the vaccine, according to acting Health Commissioner Cheryl Bettigole.

The city’s not involved in the planning of the vax parade, but Bettigole and City Representative Sheila Hess are scheduled to speak, per health department spokesperson James Garrow.

“[W]e’re very, very excited about it,” Garrow said. “We think this is a unique way to celebrate all of the hundreds of thousands of Philadelphians who have gotten vaccinated, and a fun way to offer it to new folks.”

The parade features three stops along the way where people can get free vaccines via Jefferson’s Mobile Community Vaccination Program:

  • FDR Park, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. (parade start location)
  • Dilworth Park, 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. (parade midpoint)
  • OIC on North Broad, 4 to 5 p.m. (parade finish location)

You might remember some of Jefferson’s nurses brightening up the darkest days of the pandemic when their “Swab Squad” went viral for their dancing videos.

Believe it or not, this isn’t the region’s first vaccination parade. Just a week ago, Camden’s mayor led one through his city that also included a mobile vaccination unit that could provide shots on the spot.

The Vax Up Philly parade runs 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 29, from FDR Park to the OIC building at Broad and Thompson streets.