‘That Was Unusual': Nurse Describes Working for Vaccine Provider as Probe Deepens

City Council and the City Controller want to know how a coronavirus testing startup gained such quick access to more than 7,000 vaccine doses without much vetting from top Philadelphia health officials.

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Registered nurse Katrina Lipinsky remembers wondering why she wasn't asked for any credentials before volunteering to administer vaccines for Philly Fighting COVID on Jan. 16.

"I thought that was unusual," she said of her first contact with the company under scrutiny for its now-severed partnership with the City of Philadelphia's Department of Public Health to administer coronavirus vaccines.

But that was just the beginning of Lipinsky's unusual experience volunteering as a nurse for the company. It ended after a second long day of vaccinations Jan. 23 when she claims she saw the company's CEO, Andrei Doroshin, leave the vaccination site with "10-15 doses" of the Pfizer vaccine.

"They were already in syringes," said Lipinsky, a nurse who just recently received a degree as nurse practitioner and midwife.

Doroshin, 22, and his company have come under heavy scrutiny this week following the abrupt termination by the city's health department with Philly Fighting COVID over concerns about the company's data gathering and privacy policy.

The city cut ties with "Philly Fighting COVID" after concerns were raised about how the group, which administers coronavirus vaccines, was using the data they collected. NBC10's Lauren Mayk explains.

Meanwhile, the city's top health officials are also facing questions about how Doroshin, a 22-year-old researcher at Drexel University, was able to obtain a partnership that granted him access to thousands of vaccines.

Philly Fighting COVID vaccinated 6,756 people over three weekends this month, using a site the company set up at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.

Doroshin refused to answer repeated inquiries from NBC10 about whether he personally took home doses of the Pfizer vaccine on the night of Jan. 23, as Lipinsky claims she saw.

In a text to NBC10, he said he will hold a press conference on Friday.

"I'm doing a press conference on Friday about everything that has unfolded. Convention center at noon time," he wrote.

City health officials said Wednesday amid the intensifying scrutiny that an audit of the vaccine doses given to Philly Fighting COVID found "no evidence that vaccine was wasted, stolen, or otherwise misused."

But several City Council members are now calling for hearings into the partnership.

"Why we have to rely on an organization that is less than nine months old, started by students primarily to produce PPE, and not by organizations that have a vetted track record around helping people address COVID-19, is beyond me," Councilwoman Katherine Gilmore Richardson said. "I’m flabbergasted, I’m dismayed and I’ll never understand how this happened."

A city spokesman said Wednesday evening that the Philly Fighting COVID organization actually signed a contract with the Centers for Disease Control, and that the city only "assists the CDC in ensuring the organization meets CDC criteria, for example, has a licensed medical director and has the ability to store the vaccines appropriately."

When asked for more details on the vetting process that city health officials conduct to ensure CDC requirements of organizations like Philly Fighting COVID, Public Health Department spokesman James Garrow said that information was unavailable.

The city gave the company 7,260 doses, of which 750 were returned unused, the Public Health Department told NBC10.

A total of 6,756 doses were administered to patients.

"The reason that more doses were administered than were provided is because PFC used Pfizer on one of the clinic days," according to the health department. "Pfizer vaccine sometimes allows for a 6th dose to be drawn up from the 5-dose vial."

City officials acknowledged Tuesday that there are no contracts with organizations administering the vaccine on behalf of the city.

"There is no contract with any provider that is giving out vaccines," Public Health spokesman James Garrow said.

He said the city only required that organizations fill out a form.

"Every organization that’s giving out vaccine in Philadelphia registered with the Health Department with a form that seeks to ensure that they can meet the minimum requirements for distributing vaccine," Garrow said. "There is no fiscal contract between the City and any COVID vaccine provider because the City hasn’t received any money at all from the federal government to distribute vaccine."

The city has declined to make public the registration form that Philly Fighting COVID filled out to begin receiving doses.

Health Secretary Dr. Thomas Farley said the Public Health Department will "see what sort of additional things we might do to check up on any organization who works with us."

"In retrospect, this organization wasn’t good for us to have a partnership with that organization," Farley said.

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