Philadelphia Cuts Ties With 'Whiz Kid's' Vaccine Startup

Philly Fighting COVID got off to a promising start, then issues crept up
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 27, 2021 11:42 AM CST
'Whiz Kid's' Vaccine Startup Wowed Philly, Then Imploded
A file photo of someone being administered a COVID vaccine.   (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File)

Less than two weeks ago, a 22-year-old named Andrei Doroshin landed on the Today show, which featured the "whiz kid" and the company he created. His Philly Fighting COVID landed a contract to manage the largest mass-vaccination site in the city—and it didn't go well. The Philadelphia Health Department on Monday announced it was cutting ties with the group, a self-described "group of college kids" that has been accused of pocketing vaccine doses, turning away crying seniors after overbooking, and stealthily shifting to a for-profit model. Doroshin calls the claims "baseless." The details:

  • Doroshin, in his fifth year in a combined undergrad/master's psychology program at Drexel University, first came onto the scene at the start of the pandemic, when he made 3D printed face shields to donate to area hospitals. From there, he moved into pop-up COVID-19 testing and finally vaccinations, with his group doling out almost 7,000 of them at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. As David Murrell writes for Philadelphia Magazine, "In the course of this progression, Doroshin has been hailed as a kind of operational savant."
  • This despite a resume that features a career start as director of photography for AND Productions in Los Angeles, a gig teaching at the Rancho Mirage Film Department, and the creation of a nonprofit centered on air pollution. But here's what was "left unsaid," per Murrell: AND Productions was founded by his dad, and Doroshin helped him out when he was 14; he "taught" at Rancho Mirage when he was a high school student there; and a fundraiser for that nonprofit sought to raise $50,000 but reeled in $684.

  • But that's not why the health department severed ties. That relates to a quietly made change involving Philly Fighting COVID's transition to for-profit status, and alterations to the data privacy policy on a vaccine interest form it created that would give it the power to sell user data. That web form featured a City Council seal, even though the council was uninvolved with the site, per Philadelphia.
  • Doroshin wrote on Facebook that user data would never be sold and that the language was a "mistake" that has been corrected. He also says he talked to Deputy Health Commissioner Caroline Johnson about the for-profit move, which he says would facilitate fundraising and help with operational costs. The city's stance: "For Philly Fighting COVID to have made these changes without discussion with the city is extremely troubling."
  • But that's not all. WHYY reported the group goofed on its sign-up page, and appointments for Saturday were overbooked as a result. "There were literally 85-year-old, 90-year-old people standing there in tears, with printed appointment confirmations, saying, 'I don't understand why I can’t get vaccinated, I'm 85,'" said one such person.
  • Then this allegation from Katrina Lipinsky, an on-site RN who says that the day actually ended with some vaccines left unused, and that Doroshin put roughly 10 doses in his bag. Three sources told WHYY that a Snapchat image posted that night showed Doroshin seeming ready to administer a vaccine to someone off-site.
  • As for how the city ended up working with Philly Fighting COVID on vaccines in the first place, a health department rep tells Philadelphia they were the only "community provider that had finished their requisite forms and approvals and had come to us with a plan for how to distribute vaccine."
  • Answers may be coming. The Philadelphia Inquirer reports Councilwoman Cindy Bass on Thursday plans to introduce a resolution that would have the public health and human services committee "hold hearings to investigate the City's vaccine contracting process, including an examination of Philly Fighting COVID's contract with the City."
(More coronavirus vaccine stories.)

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