Philly fighting Philly Fighting COVID

The city entrusted the distribution of vaccines to 'a bunch of college kids.' Where was the vetting process?

COVID vaccine
Image: Steven Cornfield

The news spread like wildfire Monday: Philly Fighting COVID – the “nonprofit” contracted with the city to mass-vaccinate Philadelphians had been dumped.

Its 22-year-old CEO, Andrei Doroshin, told one reporter he was nearly in tears over the break-up. He claims he never had ill will in changing his company’s privacy policy so that people’s personal information could be sold. He insisted he was up front with the city about updating PFC’s corporate status from nonprofit to for-profit and that he was only in this thing to help.

The uproar and outrage that unfurled on social media was highly charged after the stories broke that Doroshin, a Drexel neuroscience grad student, had done something slimy. Panic-stricken voices across the Internet begged for answers as suddenly more than 5,000 Philadelphians who had been vaccinated wondered where their second shot would be coming from. The city had terminated its relationship with PFC and would no longer be providing them with vaccines, but up till now – PFC had been the only provider.

The city health department has said it plans to help people who have already received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine get their second by finding a new provider. But that has done little to quell the anxiety that is spreading in the community.

Shortly after the news came out Monday, PFC changed up some language on its site that raised red flags for the city.

“Your data is safe with us,” PFC’s website read as of press time Wednesday.

WHYY interviewed five unnamed volunteers who worked closely with Doroshin and his top teammates, each of whom reportedly boasted openly about how they would profit off their latest endeavor.

“In retrospect, we should have been more careful with this organization.”

– Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley

“They weren’t even bragging about how they were helping the community. They were bragging about how rich they were going to get,” said one volunteer.

During a press briefing on Tuesday, Philly Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley said a number of factors contributed to the city’s decision to pull the plug with Philly Fighting COVID – a combination of shady behaviors and its outright stopping testing altogether when vaccines came into play. It was as if PFC began to see dollar signs and not care anymore about testing.

“What came to light was…them going from nonprofit to for-profit status and then they had information in their incorporation documents that said they would have the ability to sell that information from their website,” Farley said.

“We did not think that was appropriate. We thought if there was any attempt to do this – even any possibility – that people won’t trust this organization. We felt at that point this was truly not a trustworthy organization.”

Up until that point, Farley said, PFC had tested and vaccinated thousands of Philadelphians and “a lot of good had come out of that.”

PFC has said it has no intention of selling anyone’s data, and Farley said the city is working with the law department to ensure that won’t happen.

“In retrospect, we should have been more careful with this organization. I hope people understand that at the time, we had a large number of doses that arrived at once. We had a lot of people who we had to vaccinate quickly and we had an organization that we had worked with that looked like it had the capability of doing it – and in fact – did do that,” said Farley. 

“I hope people can understand why – on the surface – this looked like a good thing.”

Doroshin put out a statement on Tuesday, which read, in part:

“There was language in our privacy policy that was problematic and as soon as we became aware of it, we removed it. I apologize for the mistake in our privacy policy. We never have and never would sell, share or disseminate any data we collected as it would be in violation of HIPAA rules.”

“They’re gone, and that’s the end of them.”

– Mayor Jim Kenney

He also went on to try and clarify any “miscommunication” over why the organization pivoted its focus from COVID testing to vaccinations; and tried to explain why he needed money.

Yet, in multiple interviews with WHYY, Doroshin refused to say who was bankrolling PFC. A Sergei Doroshin was listed as part of the PFC “team” as part of “Operations” on the website up until Tuesday, when most of the tabs had been taken down. Andrei Doroshin and Serge Doroshin, presumably his father, are partners in another organization known as TALA Resorts, which is: “Helping humans to be human again” – whatever that means.

The city has tried to offer assurance that area hospitals and partner organizations with public health expertise will take on the mantle and do the right thing. Will we ever know if PFC was properly vetted? Will our DA step in and do anything about it? And questions remain whether PFC may face a class-action lawsuit if any data was sold after the policy change.

Most people see this for what it is: An attempt at brazen profiteering off the backs of others.

Asked repeatedly about it Tuesday, the mayor put it plainly:

“They’re gone, and that’s the end of them.”

It will be interesting to see if that’s really the case. 

  • PW Editor Jenny DeHuff

    Jenny DeHuff has been a part of the Philadelphia media landscape for the last 15 years on just about every level of journalism. She started out at The Bulletin, a conservative voice for Philadelphia, then moved through the region as she honed her career as the City Hall reporter at the Daily News, and later as an editor at Philly Voice. As Philadelphia Weekly's editor-in-chief, DeHuff brings a viewpoint that constantly begs the question of a progressive-leaning Philadelphia. Say hello at jdehuff@philadelphiaweekly.com.

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