Philadelphia mayor calls for investigation of local vaccine startup

Renee G
·3 min read

A volunteer nurse said she saw the founder stuff a handful of vaccines into his bag

The group of college friends who wanted to help during the pandemic seemed to have good intentions when they organized the nonprofit, Philly Fighting Covid, and opened a testing site in a Philadelphia neighborhood that didn’t have one yet.

But the organization’s leader, Andrei Doroshin, had loftier plans.

The 22-year-old graduate student at Drexel University gathered a group of staffers and volunteers on a Philadelphia rooftop and unveiled his plan with a PowerPoint presentation.

He claimed they could vaccinate between 500,000 and 1.5 million people. And they would make a lot of money doing it.

Doroshin explained that although the vaccine doses were provided free of charge by the federal government, Philly Fighting Covid could bill insurance companies $24 a dose for administering it.

Read More: New York health provider investigated for illegal use of COVID vaccine

By Jan. 9, Doroshin had a deal with the Philadelphia Department of Public Health and Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration. The city didn’t signed a contract with the company, but it did turn over part of its vaccine allotment to the group. It also helped it find recipients by sharing lists of residents, based on the city’s own prioritization scheme.

After bragging that they could “vaccinate an entire population of people on a scale that has never been seen before in the history of our species,” Philly Fighting Covid failed to verify its progress on that goal.

After its first vaccine event, at which 2,500 doses were administered, City Council President Darrell Clarke requested the demographic breakdown of the recipients. But the health department told him that Philly Fighting Covid had somehow lost all of the racial and ethnic data for the patients.

According to NPR, as the startup continued to hold clinics, WHYY began investigating the organization and its founder. The investigation revealed that just before the organization began its vaccination work, it reorganized and became a for-profit company called Vax Populi.

After realizing there were many flaws in the organization’s procedures from testing to scheduling, and after learning from a volunteer nurse that she saw Doroshin stuff a handful of vaccines into his bag, the city cut ties with Philly Fighting Covid.

The city cited the company’s abandonment of its testing work and the company’s new privacy policy, which would have allowed it to sell patient data, as the reason they backed away from the group.

Read More: ‘Paramedic of the Year’ charged in plot to steal COVID-19 vaccines

“I hope people can understand why on the surface this looked like a good thing,” health commissioner Tom Farley said. “In retrospect, we should have been more careful with this organization,” he explained.

Several state lawmakers have called for Farley’s resignation. Meanwhile, an unrepentant Doroshin called the city’s decision to dissolve the partnership “dirty power politics” and alleged it was part of a political conspiracy. He added that if given the chance, he wouldn’t have done anything differently.

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