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The PFC Scandal

So what could Philly possibly have seen in the inexperienced Andrei Doroshin that convinced them to partner with PFC instead of a reputable organization like the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium? I would argue that they merely saw whiteness.

By Rasheed Ajamu 

Chaos erupted among social media in Philadelphia when the city announced it would no longer be partnering with Philly Fighting COVID (PFC) to distribute COVID-19 vaccines. The news broke on the evening of Monday, January 25, after the city found out that the company made a sudden shift to for-profit and updated their privacy terms without notifying them. Soon after came more disturbing news about the company and its CEO, 22-year-old Andrei Doroshin, revealed a lack of vetting from the city and a lack of transparency from PFC

The Story

The Philadelphia Department of Public Health decided to end its contract with PFC when they realized that the organization failed to inform them that it had forged a for-profit sector. Doroshin claims that they had always been open about their plans to move to for-profit to “scale up” the number of vaccination sites and bill insurance companies for reimbursements. Reports revealed that people were misled to believe that Philadelphia City Council backed the pre-registration website because they used the council’s official seal on their website. They did not. 

Between that and the pre-registration website layout, residents were manipulated into believing that they were in good hands. But what the residents didn’t realize was that there wasn’t a privacy policy on the site. That was another indicator that people’s information could have been at risk with the organization moving to for-profit. And it is because the reporters who inquired about his policy did the organization draft one immediately. When asked about the lack of terms and possible sharing of data, Doroshin said, “We were scrambling. I think it was a mistake in that we didn’t have specifically the verbiage that we wouldn’t sell the data, even though we never had the intention to begin with to sell the data.”

It seemed that the situation could not get any worse, but the next day, on January 26, reports began circulating that Doroshin had also taken vaccines off-site. A group of former PFC volunteers had given testimonies to WHYY about what they witnessed while on the site. What they described was ghastly. 

One volunteer stated that they were turning away elderly folks who were promised vaccinations by appointment. She also says that on the same day folks got denied, Dorsohin has thrown doses in his bag and carried them off-site. She even states that the students who were giving vaccinations lacked adequate supervision. Volunteers stated that Doroshin frequently bragged about getting rich and not helping people.

Doroshin released a statement on PFC’s Instagram account reinforcing all the good they’ve done and how it was just a big miscommunication. He ends his statement with, “We are here for Philly.” Since then, he has admitted to administering the stolen vaccinations to his friends. Several members have called for hearings to further investigate the partnership, and District Attorney Krasner is soliciting information from the public about any possible criminal activity they may have encountered at PFC

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The Problem

If the students were not supervised, how do we know these vaccinations were administered correctly? How did they let such a vital tool for herd immunity get into the hands of a nine-month startup company run by a 22-year-old? Were there other organizations that could have done this work? 

This scandal displays white privilege, racism, and overall carelessness, and it’s all on the city’s behalf. While PFC has been outed as a corrupt organization, all responsibility mustn’t be shifted onto them, as they would not have been able to operate without the city’s support and assistance.

First, I think it’s important to recognize how little vetting the city did on the organization or the CEO. A WHYY article reveals a few things about the way the city carelessly navigated this partnership. Health Department spokesperson, James Garrow, stated that Doroshin’s young age or lack of experience had “no bearing” on their decision. The problem here is that he lacks experience, but he has also misled people to believe his credentials to be more prestigious than what they really are. 

He has claimed roles like real estate investor, filmmaker, and air quality specialist. After investigating this, multiple sources have found that he exaggerated all of these things. The film department he claimed to have founded was just the name of his high school’s film department; his father is a real estate developer; no one in the air quality film has ever heard of him. So what could the city possibly have seen in Doroshin and his now for-profit company? I would argue that they merely saw whiteness.

While PFC had been doing work for the last nine months, another group was doing the same work, the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium. The BDCC is a group launched by Dr. Ala Stanford that serves to “[educate and advocate] for African Americans to reduce the incidence of disease and death from coronavirus.” I can argue two reasons that the BDCC should have had the partnership easily given to PFC. The first is that they administer tests in various regions of Philadelphia several days a week. The second is that it is staffed by healthcare professionals who are all undeniably certified to do this work.

However, I can only think of one difference between the two organizations: racial dynamics. PFC‘s executive team is entirely white, and so are a lot of their volunteers. The BDCC is staffed by large numbers of Black and Brown folks, and one of their key focuses is to support Black communities, as they are underrepresented and underserved. The BDCC recognizes the harmful histories of science as it pertains to Black people, so they understand that their mission has to be heavily influenced by educating Black people about many falsehoods they have been fed in order to build their trust in science.

Dr. Stanford has an imposing resume on her own, with a history of features in publications. She is a board-certified surgeon, has a private practice, and has created mobile ICU units for terminally-ill patients to travel without risk. So how would the city figure that a 22-year-old man with no experience was more qualified to run vaccine operations over a 49-year-old woman with decades of experience? There is no other indicator than their biased trust in whiteness.

The city’s complete disregard for Stanford and her team is very telling of this. Stanford states that she was not even informed about PFC being the first to administer the vaccine. And while she sits on the city’s vaccines advisory committee and is close to the health department, she found out about this matter like any other resident in Philadelphia—by watching the news. What’s even more disturbing about this situation is that it seems that city officials have insulted Stanford doctoral credentials by suggesting that she partner with PFC. And to that point, I have to ask what could PFC even offer her? Their partnership would have been more publicity and gain on PFC’s end, as they would be getting direct experience from her and would be able to claim tremendous credibility.

Stanford and the BDCC would have nothing to gain from such a partnership except being on the receiving end of the public nightmare, which would have ruined their reputation, and they would have been babysitting college students who already lacked supervision. The city of Philadelphia asked a Black doctor to lower her standards to a mediocre white college student who gained credibility through a fucking sales pitch. If that doesn’t read racism and privilege, I don’t know what does.

In examining all this, I am thinking about how a lot of this work will fall on so many more people. Small health centers and other vaccination providers will now be forced to work overtime to clean up the mess, as those folks who received the first dose with PFC are no longer able to. It is important to note that the city says they will follow up with residents who received the first dose, but we aren’t sure how fast and efficiently that will be handled. Even then, we have to consider that people have limited access to communication channels. So there will be people who don’t even know of the scandal yet or may not have access to email or phone at the time of contact.

I also think about some of the broken trust with Black healthcare workers and Black organizers who have been working hard to inform the Black community about this vaccine. While many folks have scrutinized Black folks who have anti-vax standpoints, it is imperative to acknowledge how Black people have been mistreated under the healthcare system and by science as a whole. Historically, Black people have been the non-consensual subjects to advance science. The BDCC and Black organizers have worked very hard to create spaces where people can voice their concerns and address them. It is also significant that we realize how many Black folks were advised to go to PFC to be vaccinated, but they now face the risk of having their information given away.

Those workers and organizers carry the burden caused by the city’s carelessness and a white man’s capitalistic venture guised as community care. They will not receive any acknowledgment as a result of the work they’ve already been doing, but rather as people who stepped up when tragedy struck. And while there are no measures that can eradicate the horrendous acts of racism by the city, I think actions should happen to move in a better direction.

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First, an atonement needs to be made from the city to the residents for putting their information and health at risk. There needs to be a payout to the folks who have received the first dose of the vaccination, as professionals did not administer their injections. And for those who have entered their information on the pre-registration portal, they should be paid too. 

Dr. Ala Stanford and the BDCC should also be given a public apology for minimizing her efforts and insulting her professionalism with racist intention. The BDCC should also be the top priority to administer the vaccines. Their work around the city has spoken for itself, and if they were willing to put a 22-year-old with no experience in charge, they should have no problem replacing PFC with a professionally superior team.

It is also crucial that communication between the city and the people be assessed and revamped, as there is a lot of information that has been withheld from the public. Transparency was one of the issues that allowed for this debacle to reach the magnitude that it did. They need to be sure that people know these vaccines are free, and in the case that anyone has to be reimbursed, they need to be sure residents are walked through that process with diligence. 

Finally, I believe that all society members should begin having honest conversations about healthcare-related to systems of racism and capitalism. As mentioned earlier, Black folks have suffered under an apparatus of the healthcare system for generations. Even today, it is clear that white people are receiving vaccinations for COVID-19 at higher rates than Black people, even though Black people are at higher risk of dying from the virus. Doctors need to begin examining how that fact, in conversation with the health field’s racist history, contributes to why Black patients don’t feel safe under their care. Black people didn’t ask for a faulty system; they were forced into it.

Moving forward, we must continue highlighting all the fantastic work that the BDCC has been doing and continues to do. While they are doing great work, they cannot do it alone. If you have the means to, please donate to their GoFundMe. While they are now administering vaccinations, they are still doing testing, which was abandoned by the PFC. All funds will cover van transportation, personal protective equipment (PPE), testing supplies, staff support, and more. While the city fights investigations on their dangerous partnership with PFC, the BDCC will continue to fight for our safety.

Rasheed Ajamu is a fat, Black, queer jawn from Philly. Rasheed runs the @PhreedomJawn page on Instagram, which informs, uplifts, and lists opportunities for all of the Philly Pham. They are 1/2 of The GWORLZ Room Podcast, which is an open forum where they and their sibling fat in peace. Ajamu has organized calls-to-actions and mutual aids in Philadelphia. They also freelance for outlets like BLAVITY, Noire Life Mag, and Medium.

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