Philly Fighting COVID CEO defends company's actions in 1-on-1 interview

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- The CEO of Philly Fighting COVID, the group that was dropped by the City of Philadelphia earlier this week for concern over data privacy, admitted to administering vaccines without medical qualifications to four of his friends.

Andrei Doroshin, a 22-year-old Drexel University graduate student in the College of Arts and Sciences, defended his actions in a one-on-one interview with Action News Thursday night.

"You know what, I did the job. We did the job. We vaccinated almost 7,000 people," said Doroshin.

He said the Philadelphia Health Department is fortunate his company was used to operate the vaccine clinic at the Pennsylvania Convention Center for health care workers.

"They couldn't do it themselves. Dr. Farley screwed this up. He couldn't do this himself," said Doroshin.

WATCH: Philly Fighting COVID CEO defends company's actions in 1-on-1 interview with Action News

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Philly Fighting COVID CEO defends company's actions in 1-on-1 interview with Action News.



Doroshin said four doses were left over after the mass vaccination clinic at the Convention Center last weekend where an estimated 6,800 people received the COVID-19 vaccine. He said he had no choice but to give them to four friends.

"The recommendation from the health department was put it in any arm. This is a war against a virus. At the end of the day the doses were about to expire," Doroshin said. "What would you have done? You have these four extra doses, you called everybody, they're just about to expire, the guidance says put it in an arm."

The CEO appeared on television for the first time since the city broke off the partnership, appearing on NBC News' 'Today' Thursday morning.

"I am not a nurse. I have undergone our internal certification," Doroshin said on the program, before agreeing that he was not qualified to give the vaccines to his friends.

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Philly Fighting COVID is opening a testing site at The Fillmore.



Doroshin said he stands by his decision.

"I understand I made that mistake. That is my mistake to carry for the rest of my life. But it is not the mistake of the organization," Doroshin said.

Doroshin also claims he had no inside connection to City Hall and that his company first started with COVID testing and before trust was built with health officials.

"Because we're such nerds we figured all the software stuff out before anyone else did. The Trump administration really screwed it up because they never developed any software for this," said Doroshin.

Lynn Newbould, of Newtown, Bucks County, wonders if one of those vaccine doses could have been administered to her 68-year-old husband Bill.

Newbould, a clinical researcher, got her shot with Philly Fighting COVID on January 16. Her husband works in the same field, but was denied a vaccine just hours before his appointment.

"(Doroshin) said he brought home doses to give his friends and my husband got a text from them that same day saying his appointment was canceled," said Newbould. "The anxiety, the stress, the anger just increases as the story unfolds."

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The Philadelphia Department of Public Health announced it is no longer working with Philly Fighting COVID to provide testing or vaccines.



Doroshin told NBC News he has been receiving death threats since Philadelphia cut ties with his Philly Fighting COVID organization earlier this week.

"We should've been more careful with this organization," Philadelphia Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said Tuesday. "In retrospect, I wish we hadn't worked with Philly Fighting COVID."

Now, Philadelphia City Council is launching it's own investigation into how the Department of Public Health came to partner with Philly Fighting COVID in the first place.

Councilwoman Cindy Bass introduced the resolution in a hearing on Thursday.

"Who gave the okay? Why was it given, and why was credentialing not required for this very important, significant agreement that was made?" asked Councilwoman Bass, who also chairs the Committee of Public Health and Human Services.

Dr. Farley cited Philly Fighting COVID's change in corporate status as one of the factors that warranted an end to the partnership.

"They had gone from non-profit to for-profit status. They had information in their incorporation documents that they would have the ability to sell the information from their website. We did not think that was appropriate," said Dr. Farley.

The company policy, edited on Monday, was updated to say, "The company will not sell data to any parties."

In a statement from Doroshin earlier this week, he said Philly Fighting COVID's website and operations are 100% HIPAA compliant and information has not and will not be sold.

"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," Doroshin's statement read.

The group said it switched to for-profit to raise money to be able to continue to distribute vaccines.

"Vaccinating large groups of people takes resources, manpower, and ultimately financial help. 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," the statement said.

During the city press briefing, Farley was asked about vaccines not being used. He explained that, in general, if the clinics have leftover vaccines at the end of the day, they are turned over to the health department.

City resident Josh Israel was one of the thousands who received the first vaccination shot at the Philly Fighting COVID clinic.

"I assumed the city was in control of everything and then I come to find out it's being run by a 22-year-old kid who's probably never had a job in his life," Israel said.

Meanwhile, Israel, like many others, was forced to find another distributor for the second dose.

"It's been over two weeks since my first shot, I believe, and I was supposed to get it by this Friday, the second dose," Israel said.

The Philadelphia Department of Public Health said it will be contacting the people who received the first dose from Philly Fighting COVID and help reschedule their second dose.

Israel said he received his email on Tuesday.

City officials said they haven't been notified of any sold data of those who were given the shot at the PFC clinic.

"We're working with our law department to make sure that that doesn't happen," said Farley.

The Pennsylvania Attorney General and Philadelphia District Attorney are looking into the matter. Each has released a statement below.

For Philadelphians, there is no official sign up through the Department of Public Health's website so far, but there is an interest form to fill out. The City of Philadelphia strongly recommends that people who wish to express their interest in vaccination do so in the city's portal at https://www.phila.gov/vaccineinterest.

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Statement from Philly Fighting COVID's Andrei Doroshin:
"Over the past 48 hours there have been several inquiries into Philly Fighting Covid and I would like to formally set the record straight - on the company, our intentions, and our goals in helping the city of Philadelphia.

We started Philly Fighting Covid in 2020 as a group of volunteers with a 3D printer to make PPE for essential workers. Our goal was to help frontline works and use our resources to the best of our abilities. As our team grew, so did our ability to help more people in the fight against COVID, by testing over 20,000 Philadelphians and working with the City's Department of health to ensure essential health care workers, including 6,800 people, have safely received their first of two vaccinations. We are grateful for the Health Department and the opportunity provided.
We understand that there have been legitimate inquiries into our privacy policies. 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. Our intention was never to cause confusion or harm. From Day 1 our goal was to help as many people as we could and ultimately eradicate this virus. As the vaccine became available for distribution, we did not have enough resources to do both and made a choice to vaccinate as many people as quickly as possible, as we believe that is what will help end this pandemic.

Vaccinating large groups of people takes resources, manpower, and ultimately financial help. 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. We never hid our intentions with the city and were making the change for good reasons. We included the new company in the RFP we submitted to the city last week. We have always intended on scaling up the number of clinics to eventually vaccinate more people (we have been working for months on plans to scale-up vaccinations and have shared them with the city) and money is needed to do that.
We are here for Philly. "

Statement from the Philadelphia Department of Public Health:

"The Philadelphia Department of Public Health will no longer work with Philly Fighting COVID to provide testing or vaccine, effective immediately. We have recently been made aware of a change in PFC's corporate status that took place without our knowledge, from nonprofit to for-profit. As part of this change, PFC updated its data privacy policy in a way that could allow the organization to sell data collected through PFC's pre-registration site. The City has not been notified of any of these data having been sold. But for PFC to have made these changes without discussion with the City is extremely troubling. As a result of these concerns, along with PFC's unexpected stoppage of testing operations, the Health Department has decided to stop providing vaccine to PFC.

The Health Department is currently developing plans to shift future vaccine allocations to other providers, and is scheduling new clinics to ensure that people who were vaccinated at PFC's clinics at the Convention Center can get their second dose. The Health Department will be in contact with each of those people to set up appointments.

In order to ensure that the Health Department is aware of each Philadelphia resident who is interested in receiving vaccine, the City strongly recommends that people who wish to express their interest in vaccination do so in the City's portal at https://www.phila.gov/vaccineinterest. By registering through this website, the Health Department will be able to contact you to set up an appointment when you are eligible and vaccine is available."

Statement from Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner:

"New investigative reporting by WHYY and Billy Penn raises questions about Philly Fighting COVID, a start-up company from which the City of Philadelphia Department of Public Health severed ties earlier this week. Philadelphia residents have spent nearly 11 months doing all they can to survive and to help others survive this pandemic. They deserve a transparent and efficient public health response that includes safe, fair, and reliable access to testing and vaccines.

It is concerning that reportedly Philly Fighting COVID appears to have misrepresented its role in vaccine distribution and is reported to have failed to disclose information about a for-profit operation. Like many members of the public, I have questions about the methods used by Philly Fighting COVID in collecting personal data from people signing up for vaccine information, and what this company plans to do or might have already done with that personal data, as well as WHYY's reporting today that suggests the company's founder might have taken vaccines meant for public distribution into his personal possession.

I encourage members of the public, including City employees, who have information about what they believe to be crimes related to this matter or other pandemic relief efforts, to contact our Special Investigations Unit directly: DAO_SIU@phila.gov or 215-686-9608."

Statement from Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro:

"Taking advantage of people and their privacy under the guise of serving as a nonprofit is not only unethical -- it can also be against Pennsylvania law. These allegations against Philly Fighting COVID are serious and any consumers who believe they have been misled should file a complaint with our office -- online, by phone, or by emailing charities@attorneygeneral.gov. We have been in touch with the City to obtain any information they can provide about these allegations. Our office oversees charitable organizations in the Commonwealth and we will ensure they are acting in good faith with the communities they serve."

Statement from Drexel University:

"Dear Members of the Drexel Community:

I would like to respond to the concerns some of you have directed to the University over the group Philly Fighting COVID, due to the fact that its founder is a Drexel graduate student, a faculty member serves as an advisor, and a number of Drexel students and alumni work and volunteer with the organization.

Philly Fighting COVID is a completely separate organization from Drexel University, and the University has had no involvement in the formation or management of the group. Questions regarding its operations should be directed to Philly Fighting COVID.

Members of City Council have called for an investigation into Philly Fighting COVID's contract with the city. Drexel is not a part of those investigations.

Drexel's College of Nursing and Health Professions had made arrangements with Philly Fighting COVID earlier this month for Drexel nursing students to use their vaccination site for clinical rotations, but that never transpired.

Drexel maintains a strong and supportive relationship with the city and will continue to closely collaborate with the Department of Public Health in COVID-19 prevention, containment and care.

The coronavirus outbreak has called upon the best efforts of countless individuals, especially healthcare providers, many of whom put themselves at risk working to make this community safer. I want to reiterate Drexel's support for everyone working to get us through this pandemic.

Sincerely,

John Fry
President"

Statement from Congressman Brendan Boyle:

"Following recent news reports detailing serious issues with Philly Fighting COVID and their operations as a former vaccine partner with the City of Philadelphia's Department of Public Health, I am concerned about the impact these developments are having on my constituents and residents across Philadelphia. As we work to continue to get vaccines in arms of those who need them the most, the seemingly unscrupulous behavior exhibited by Philly Fighting COVID is extremely distressing and warrants a full investigation at every level of government."

At my request, the Philadelphia Health Department will be briefing me on this and other vaccine related matters so that we have a clear sense of what the Department of Public Health's plans are to address these issues moving forward."

In addition, I have also contacted the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) requesting all available information on what role, if any, the CDC or other federal agencies played in the establishment or approval of agreements for any third party distributors of COVID-19 vaccines in Philadelphia or in any other jurisdiction. Through this inquiry, my office will determine if any action needs to be taken through the CDC or via congressional oversight to ensure that all vaccine distribution partners are held to the highest possible standards, and that any operators who do not meet these standards will be held responsible."

My goal is to ensure that as vaccine distribution continues to expand, there is total transparency and accountability in this process, both locally and through the federal government. So many people have worked incredibly hard to develop these lifesaving vaccines, and now we must work equally hard to ensure that they're distributed in an equitable, transparent manner."
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