In Cindy Bass, Council News, Darrell L. Clarke, News by PHL Council

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Philadelphia, PA – City Council leaders today unveiled legislation to address deficiencies in how the city’s Health Department allowed an unproven, unqualified group of non-public health professionals gain access to thousands of doses of COVID-19 vaccine for distribution to city residents.

The legislation, scheduled for introduction Thursday in City Council, addresses several important issues arising in how the Health Department issues contracts or enters agreements with non-city providers to administer COVID-19 vaccine.

Council President Darrell L. Clarke (5th District) and Councilmember Cindy Bass (8th District), who chairs Council’s Public Health and Human Services Committee, unveiled the legislation during a virtual news conference today.

In addition to the legislation, Council will hold a public hearing this Friday, Feb. 5th, in Council’s Public Health & Human Services Committee, chaired by Councilmember Bass. The hearing’s purpose is to examine how the Health Department came to distribute nearly 7,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine to Philly Fighting COVID, a group of young entrepreneur students from Drexel University with little to no background in public health. The city terminated its undocumented vaccine arrangement with the organization last week, amid news stories concerning the group’s questionable practices and conduct.

“There is no more important public health function in Philadelphia now than delivering COVID-19 vaccine safely, efficiently, equitably and transparently to Philadelphia residents,” said Council President Clarke. “City Council has a legislative oversight role to play in ensuring that the city contracts with other providers in the right way, and this legislation is designed to tighten up that process and make it more transparent.”

“Council intends to get to the bottom of this matter in our hearing, and to understand how the city came to award thousands of doses of COVID-19 vaccine to a group that seems unqualified and inexperienced,” said Councilmember Bass. “We owe our citizens and residents real answers – and we intend to find them and recommend changes to make sure this doesn’t happen again. It makes your blood boil.”

Here is what the legislation proposes:

Contract Relationship Deemed to Exist. There were questions around Philly Fighting COVID as to whether or not it had a contract when the Health Department began sending them vaccine to distribute. This legislation clears up any confusion. If the city provides COVID-19 vaccine to any organization, a contractual relationship exists – whether there’s compensation or not.

Contract Requirements. Another issue that arose is whether this group had the right experience for a critical public health task like administering COVID-19 vaccine. Under the bill:

  • No vaccine doses can be distributed to any group or entity to administer vaccinations unless a contractual agreement has first been entered into.
  • No city department can award a contract to administer COVID-19 vaccine to another group unless the city specifies in writing the experience a group must have to be eligible; evaluates the group’s response to see if it meets the criteria; and puts in writing that the group receiving a contract has the right amount of experience to deliver vaccines safely.

Economic Opportunity Plan Requirement 

The city department must also specify that the group it is awarding a contract to administer vaccine will fully comply with the city’s Economic Opportunity Plan requirements. Equity and public health go hand in hand.

Notification of Council. Under the legislation, no less than 2 days before entering into a contract with any group to administer vaccine, the city department intending to do so must notify the President and Chief Clerk of City Council. This notice must set forth the contract’s terms, including the amount of experience the group has to administer vaccines, as well as the demographic information about residents whom the group plans to vaccinate.

Reporting Requirements. Another thing that’s necessary out of this episode is more transparent reporting to citizens on whom the city is contracting with to distribute COVID-19 vaccine.  Under the legislation:

The Health Commissioner, or an official named by the Mayor, must submit to the President and Chief Clerk of Council – and post on the city’s official website – the following information once every two weeks:

  • The entities or groups authorized to distribute COVID-19 vaccine
  • The number of vaccine doses provide to each group
  • The number of doses actually administered
  • The race, ethnicity and age of the people vaccinated, and
  • The priority category (1A, 1B, 1C or 2) of the vaccinated persons

“More than 105,000 people have contracted this virus in Philadelphia, and over 2,800 people have died,” Clarke said. “We have more than 1.5 million people to get vaccinated. We have to get this right. People need faith that their government can keep them safe and deliver them vaccinations fairly and equitably. Council intends to do its part to ensure that.”

Link to the proposed legislation:

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