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12 Feb 2021

Philly Philly!

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February 12, 2021 Category: Local Posted by:

In the latest chapter of Philadelphia’s COVID-19 vaccination rollout debacle, City Council and Mayor Jim Kenney debate the pros, cons and racial equity of using stadiums as mass vaccination sites.

By Denise Clay-Murray

While people don’t remember everything about the Philadelphia Eagles victory in Super Bowl LII, they do remember the “Trick Play Heard ‘Round The World,” the Philly Special.

In addition to becoming a staple in every college football coach’s playbook, the touchdown pass from then-Eagles tight end Trey Burton to then-Eagles quarterback Nick Foles has been the stuff of legends, t-shirts, and other types of memorabilia.

And now, it’s the name of a plan put together by City Councilmember Allan Domb (D-At-Large) to smooth out Philadelphia’s COVID-19 vaccination response. 

At a press conference held outside of the Broad Street Line’s NRG Station at Broad and Pattison, Councilmember Domb, joined by Councilmembers Cindy Bass (D-8th Dist.), Katherine Gilmore Richardson (D-At-Large), Mark Squilla (D-1st Dist.), and Derek Green (D-At-Large), unveiled Operation Philly Special, a plan that would utilize the stadiums as mass vaccination stops. Also participating in the press conference were former Mayor John Street, his son, State Sen. Sharif Street (D-3rd Dist.), former Congressman Bob Brady and boxing champ Bernard Hopkins.

Under this plan, the parking lots of the stadiums, megachurches around the city, and any other large space that can accommodate everything needed to give residents the COVID-19 vaccination, would be utilized for that purpose, Domb said. The plan would also include transportation for those without cars to get to the sites and possibly staggered invitations to the site based on zip code. 

President Joe Biden has proposed something similar nationwide and has gotten buy-in for it from the National Football League, Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association. It’s something that Philadelphia could do easily, Domb believes.

Besides, the city really has nowhere to go but up in this regard.

“Our city has fumbled and tripped along the way in working to get the vaccinations out to residents in an equitable, responsible and patient friendly manner,” Domb said. “While the city has created sites to conduct vaccinations, we need a mass vaccination plan that replicates the efforts being made across the nation in other cities.” 

Domb also called upon Mayor Jim Kenney and City Health Commissioner Thomas Farley to better utilize non-profits like the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium and the best practices used by health systems across the country to make sure that no one misses their opportunity to get the vaccine.

But the idea of having mass vaccination sites in places like Lincoln Financial Field has already gotten a hard “no” from the Kenney Administration. 

On Friday, during what turned out to be four hours of testimony before Council’s Public Health and Human Services Committee, Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said that giving vaccines at places like Lincoln Financial Field might disadvantage the very people that Council wants to help, namely the city’s under vaccinated Black population.

“Who is going to drive into [the supersite]?” Farley asked. “Not just the people who have cars in Philadelphia, but people who have cars in Delaware and the state of Pennsylvania. We are allocated vaccine based upon our resident population, not based upon the metropolitan area.”

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney speaks with members of the media during a news conference at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia, Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Mayor Kenney’s office was even more direct.

“We ask Councilman Domb and other supporters this,” Mike Dunn, Kenney’s senior deputy of communications said, “Are you deliberately trying to ensure that white privileged suburban residents of other counties and states are prioritized for vaccination over Black and brown taxpayers of Philadelphia?” 

That question did not go over well with the members of Council. Domb took particular offense.

“I don’t know whether I’m more offended or saddened by that statement,” he said. “At this moment, our mayor is fighting against us and not with us. We need him with us.”

To force the issue, Domb had intended to introduce a resolution demanding the mayor adopt his plan. But Council President Darrell Clarke said he’d try to mediate instead.

“I am just a firm believer as a “glass-half-full” kind of guy that we can work together and get this done,” he said.

Since the authority to distribute vaccines and open testing and vaccination sites is solely the Kenney Administration’s, Clarke is going to have his work cut out for him.

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