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Philadelphia Acting Deputy Health Commissioner Dr. Caroline Johnson Resigns Amid Philly Fighting COVID Controversy

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- Dr. Caroline Johnson, Philadelphia's acting deputy health commissioner, has resigned amid the controversy surrounding Philly Fighting COVID, the city confirmed Saturday night.

The city confirmed to Eyewitness News that Johnson gave an advantage in the vaccine bidding process to Philly Fighting COVID and its CEO, 22-year-old Andrei Doroshin, a Drexel University graduate student.

A health department spokesperson said Johnson spoke about the vaccination request for proposal (RFP) with at least two vendors, Philly Fighting COVID and Black Doctors Covid-19 Consortium.

"These actions were inappropriate because the information shared was not available to all potential applicants," the spokesperson said. "When presented with this information, Dr. Johnson tendered her resignation. While these actions may have been intended to help the city's vaccine distribution effort, the Health Commissioner has accepted her resignation in the best interest of the city."

The resignation comes after the city severed its ties with Philly Fighting COVID this week. According to the city, Philly Fighting COVID's corporate structure changed from a nonprofit to a for-profit. The change in structure came with changes to their privacy policy. The health department said they are looking for other providers to administer the vaccines.

City Council is calling for a hearing with the city's health department and its dealings with the organization.

"We demand answers," Philadelphia Councilmember Cindy Bass said earlier this week.

Doroshin told NBC News program "Today" that he did take four doses of vaccine home and administered them to friends. The allegations first came to light after Katrina Lipinsky, who says she is a registered nurse and volunteered for the clinic, posted on Twitter that Doroshin "took home a ziplock bag-full of vaccines."

The 22-year-old Doroshin spoke out in his own defense Friday, saying he's being turned into a scapegoat. He defended his group's efforts on the vaccination process and called on Philadelphia Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley to resign.

"I'm calling for Farley to step down and be replaced," Doroshin said.

Doroshin made several bold statements during an eye-opening interview. Eyewitness News learned the city gave Doroshin just weeks to open the mass vaccination site at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. It also appears city leaders initially believed Philly Fighting COVID was doing a good job.

Doroshin provided Eyewitness News a letter sent to him on Jan. 22 by the city's health department. It says, in part, "PFC has been very successful in running high throughput vaccine operations." He also says the city wanted the group to open more mass vaccine sites, but days later, the city announced it was suspending its relationship with Philly Fighting COVID.

"The city needs a scapegoat for why they botched a vaccine effort and they probably think they're embarrassed because a 22-year-old did a better job than they did," Doroshin said.

Farley told Eyewitness News on Friday night that he will not be stepping down, but he said he would if he was asked to. Now, he is trying to rebuild the public's trust.

"Let's remember 7,000 people were vaccinated, that's a good thing. I think the problem here was that we end up in a relationship with an organization that was not trustworthy, lost the public trust," Farley said. "And that's the issue, we're trying to deal with. We will review our process to improve this and earn back the public trust."

In a letter to Farley, Mayor Jim Kenney requested a report within 30 days of how the Health Department partnered with Philly Fighting COVID, and to identify the weakness in its vetting process.

The city is now looking for other organizations to partner with.


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