Philly's FEMA mass vaccination site hits snag before it opens

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- The Philadelphia Department of Public Health says it's taking action after ineligible people were able to get an appointment for a vaccine days before the doors of the Pennsylvania Convention Center open for a FEMA-run vaccination clinic.

Officials said a private online link meant for essential workers to schedule a vaccine appointment at the Convention Center was inappropriately shared. Now, the health department is tasked with removing ineligible sign-ups.

"The headache and strain this has caused not only is frustrating but as stated, could deny lifesaving vaccine to someone who fits all eligibility criteria," said the health department in a statement.

The clinic is set to officially open on Wednesday with a plan to vaccinate 6,000 people per day.

Donna Weiner has been desperate for one of those appointments.

"I actually go on every single day, sometimes I go on in the morning and evening as well," said Weiner.

The 62-year-old has a pre-existing health condition and is a caregiver of a 5-year-old. She says Monday's news is salt in the wound.

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"It upsets me very much for the simple fact that I waited patiently, but I don't even hear back," she said.

"It's disappointing to know that this is another opportunity that we have to earn the public's trust and we're not doing as good of a job as we should be," said Isaiah Thomas, councilmember at-large.

In January, it was the Philly Fighting COVID debacle and it's been no secret that seniors and those with limited internet access have struggled to find appointments to get vaccinated.

The health department says anyone who wasn't a direct recipient of a link will have their appointment canceled, but cleaning up the rolls of registered people will be the bigger burden.

Officials say it's now working to implement new features so that links are not shared in the future.

Read the full statement released by the Philadelphia Department of Public Health:

"The Health Department identified individuals that fell into defined categories such as essential workers, SEPTA employees and designated federal employees who serve in public-facing roles. Confidential links were sent to those individuals. Regrettably, the confidential links were shared inappropriately with individual that were not on the approved list. We understand the desire for loved ones and friends to be vaccinated. However, those that share private appointment links inappropriately are stealing doses from those who are at the highest at risk of exposure, hospitalization, and death. Anyone who has received a private appointment link should consider what their sharing of that link could do, and make sure they are okay with taking vaccine away from those who could die as a result of their action. The Health Department is currently going through all of the individuals who obtained appointments to confirm that only those individuals specifically identified by the Health Department have appointments. Anyone who obtained an appointment and is not on the approved invitation list will be cancelled. Anyone attempting to schedule an appointment for March 1st or 2nd will be removed as the clinic has not officially launched. Our vaccination department has been flooded with appointment request from people who were inappropriately sent a private link. The headache and strain this has caused not only is frustrating but as stated, could deny lifesaving vaccine to someone who fits all eligibility criteria. We are currently working with PrepMod to implement new features for these links, so that they are not shared as widely in the future."
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