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Group hired to run vaccine clinic accused of misusing doses and personal information

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A group that was hired to vaccinate Philadelphia residents has come under fire after allegedly misusing vaccines and selling the personal data of those who signed up to be vaccinated. 

Philly Fighting COVID, which was founded in 2020 at the beginning of the pandemic, first focused on producing personal protective equipment and later partnered with the Philadelphia Department of Public Health "to provide free, COVID-19 testing to more than 20,000 people in neighborhoods with inequitable access to quality healthcare," according to the group's website.

Earlier this month, the group opened its first mass community vaccination clinic at Pennsylvania Convention Center, according to its website. 

Philadelphia terminated its contract with the organization when it switched from a nonprofit to a for-profit group, allowing it to sell information gathered from the thousands of people who registered for vaccines, CBS Philly reports.

The city called these and other allegations against Philly Fighting COVID disturbing, according to CBS Philly. "I do understand why people are upset with that. We were very upset as well, that's why we've terminated the relationship," Philadelphia Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley said, according to CBS Philly. "Obviously, in retrospect, this organization, it wasn't good for us to have a partnership with that organization."

Farley said Philly Fighting COVID is saying it has "no intention of selling that information," collected when people registered for vaccines through its website. "We're working with our law department to see if there's any way to make sure that doesn't happen," he continued. 

The group has also been accused of misappropriating vaccines. These allegations are now being investigated, CBS Philly reports. 

The group, created by Drexel University graduate student Andrei Doroshin, described itself as a group of college kids wanting to help out, according to CBS Philly. 

When asked why the city partnered with the group, entrusting it with thousands of vaccine doses, Farley said he understands why people would be concerned by the decision. "In retrospect, we should have been more careful with this organization," he said. 

The city will guarantee that the thousands of people who received their fist dose of the vaccine through PFC will also get their second.

In a lengthy statement on the group's website, Doroshin said he wanted to "formally set the record straight – on the company, our intentions, and our goals in helping the city of Philadelphia."

"We understand that there have been legitimate inquiries into our privacy policies," Doroshin said in the statement. "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. " 

"We are aware that some were taken aback when we pivoted from testing to vaccines and we sincerely apologize for any miscommunications," said Doroshin. "Our intention was never to cause confusion or harm."

Doroshin admitted the group did not have enough resources to do both testing and vaccinating, so they made a choice to "to vaccinate as many people as quickly as possible."

"Vaccinating large groups of people takes resources, manpower, and ultimately financial help," he said. "That is why we also shifted gears to a for-profit company — so that we could expand our operations team and accelerate the vaccine distribution." 

Doroshin said Philly Fighting COVID never hid its intentions with the city and had always intended on increasing the number of vaccination clinics, "and money is needed to do that." 

CBS Philly reports those who received the vaccine from the group or signed up with them are being advised to register online with the city health department.

CBS News has not yet received a response to inquiries to Philly Fighting COVID and the health commissioner for more information.

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