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A proposal to use the Eagles’ stadium as a mass coronavirus vaccination site has buy-in from some City Council members, but Philadelphia’s top doctor says it could leave out those who most need a vaccine, exacerbate racial inequities and possibly divert vaccines toward non-Philadelphians.
While Philadelphia Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley has left open the possibility of using Lincoln Financial Field as a mass vaccination clinic in the future, he says doing so right now would not be “the best way” to administer limited supplies of vaccine. Despite that, several council members, spearheaded by Councilman Allan Domb, are leading an effort to use the stadium to inoculate people.
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Domb is among those who gathered Wednesday to outline their plan to use Lincoln Financial Field “and other large outdoor sites to assist with the City of Philadelphia’s mass vaccination efforts in neighborhoods across the city.” He called the plan "Operation Philly Special," in reference to the famous Eagles trick play that helped land the team a Super Bowl win in 2018.
Domb was joined by Council members Cindy Bass, Katherine Gilmore Richardson, Derek Green, Mark Squilla, Kenyatta Johnson and Bobby Henon, as well as state Sen. Sharif Street, former congressman Bob Brady and ex-Mayor John Street.
In a statement, an Eagles spokesperson said the team “will await further guidance, but stand ready to help our community in any way possible to help ensure a safe and efficient vaccination process at our stadium.”
The proposal, however, has not yet received buy-in from Farley.
“Remember, we have three goals: getting vaccine out quickly, getting vaccine to people for whom we can save the most lives in the early going, and racial equity. A drive-thru site at a stadium works against the second and third,” Farley told Domb and other Council members during a hearing Friday.
The doctor reiterated that point during a coronavirus briefing with the press Tuesday, adding that Philadelphians without cars may not be able to access the South Philadelphia stadium and that people from outside the city – including those from the Philadelphia’s surrounding counties, Delaware or New Jersey – could take vital shots away from Philadelphians.
The city, he said, is only allocated doses based on its own population, not based on that of the greater metropolitan area, meaning that opening a site easily accessible to non-residents would potentially take away already scarce vaccines from Philadelphians. Instead, the goal should be for mass vaccination clinics to be more centrally located and accessible to people who do not own cars, Farley said.
Indeed, on Tuesday the city announced a partnership that would see teachers, child care providers and other staff who work with children get the vaccine at either the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s Roberts Center or one of six pop-up clinics at locations within the School District of Philadelphia.
“Mayor Kenney has a plan for right now, but what we need going forward, in the future, is a mass vaccination plan that allows us to vaccinate upwards of 5,000 people per day at one location, one that’s efficient and effective," Domb said.
His statement, however, came before Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced late Wednesday that Dodger Stadium and some other non-mobile vaccination sites would have to be temporarily shut down due to a vaccine shortage in Los Angeles County.
Domb added that he has spoken to Dr. Ala Stanford, who set up the Black Doctors Consortium group that provides free coronavirus tests and vaccines, and that she told him she would be willing to manage a mass vaccination clinic at the Eagles' stadium if asked to do so by the Kenney administration.
Brady, who said he reached out to the Eagles weeks ago and got them to agree to use the Linc for vaccinations, suggested the site could be set up to have a line for cars and a separate line for pedestrians. The city could also use SEPTA to shuttle people without cars to the stadium, he added.
He also said that people getting vaccinated could be asked to show an ID to ensure they're from Philadelphia.
However, Philadelphia Department of Public Health spokesperson James Garrow told NBC10 in a statement that the city currently does not require providers to ask people to show ID when getting a vaccine, and that instituting such a requirement would hurt undocumented people living in Philadelphia.
Garrow said Farley believes vaccination sites should be dispersed throughout the city and especially in communities that have traditionally been underserved.
"In addition to that desire, Dr. Farley acknowledges that while requiring identification at one of these sites would ensure that only Philadelphians get vaccinated, but it will preclude undocumented Philadelphians from receiving vaccine, which will serve to make vaccine distribution more inequitable," Garrow said.
Under Pennsylvania law, undocumented immigrants do not qualify for a state-issued driver's license or ID because they do not have a Social Security number, which the state requires for the granting of IDs.
Domb and others, however, believe the city should move forward with preparations for a mass vaccination site at Lincoln Financial Field as a way to prepare for when vaccines are widely available.
“When the call comes in, and it will come in, that the supplies are here, we can’t be on our heels trying to figure this out, scrambling around to find partners. We need a plan now," Domb said.