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Opinion: An erosion of trust

February 2, 2021 Category: FeaturedLongPurpose


This guest column was written by Jane Shull, the CEO of Philadelphia FIGHT.
We at Philadelphia FIGHT have been distressed by the bungled COVID Vaccine response carried out until a few days ago by a new organization called Philly Fighting COVID (PFC).

As you are probably aware, PFC, with no medical leadership, an inexperienced graduate student as their CEO, and no history whatsoever of the delivery of medical services, was chosen by the City to run its first vaccination mass distribution center through a process that has still not been made public.

Philadelphia FIGHT Community Health Centers is not connected to and was not involved with PFC’s  project, in which unlicensed volunteers were apparently asked to vaccinate the most vulnerable Philadelphians,  in an environment of ever shifting leadership, and where the founder of PFC has been reliably quoted as saying that he intended to become wealthy as a result of franchising his dangerously flawed approach. The Health Department’s official who okayed the contract had resigned. Following the City’s ending its relationship with PFC,  confusion arose as to how thousands of people eligible for a second dose of vaccine would get it, and in the first day post the split, which vaccine would be used.

Many people have called us or written messages to us asking about this issue, and we are hearing from our staff, our board, and our funders an impression has been created that we are affiliated with the PFC.  We want to clearly state:  Philadelphia FIGHT Community Health Centers is not PFC, and  has nothing to do with PFC.

FIGHT was founded over 30 years ago to address issues related to HIV/AIDS. Seven years ago we expanded our services to become a Federally Qualified Health Center serving over 6,000 patients. Most of our patients are low-income, and the majority are people of color. Our clinical providers offer and have always offered state of the art HIV and Hepatitis care, in a primary care setting that also emphasizes dignity, choice and access to the best treatments available.

We are funded and heavily regulated by the US Department of Health and Human Services, the State Department of Health, and the City.  We conform to all relevant requirements and regulations.  Unlike what has been reported about PFC, we do not make it up as we go along.

We were not involved with this project in any way. But we have all been harmed by it. PFC is arguing that no harm has been done, apparently because people have been vaccinated. They are wrong. Their actions have eroded the trust of everyone in the process of mass vaccination and raised questions about what else we do not know. The erosion of trust is a great harm, and it may delay our city’s ability to respond to the pandemic in an effective manner.

From our Partners

We were not involved with this project in any way. But we have all been harmed by it.

Let us be clear: This breakdown has occurred during the most serious pandemic of modern times, and just when we finally have hope from two vaccines. Worldwide  nearly 2.2 million  people have died so far including 433,000 Americans. Due to a massive effort on the part of scientists, the scientific arms of the government and the pharmaceutical industry, two vaccines have received emergency approval and are now available to begin to turn the tide. Scientists have found no reason to fear these vaccines. The vaccines are extremely effective. They offer real hope, not that this is the end, but that we will actually see the end of this pandemic.

Yet vaccines will end the pandemic only if most people are willing to be vaccinated.  And right now, the fact is, we do not know if that will be the case. Many people remain hesitant or reluctant to accept these vaccines, citing concerns about the history of the exploitation of vulnerable populations by scientists, pharma, and even doctors. These concerns are legitimate. We believe they can be addressed in a context of trust between provider and patient, but we have many years of experience which has taught us that trust must be earned by the provider, before we can start the conversation.

Nothing matters more than trust right now and it is difficult to see how it will be restored in this community, given the actions of PFC and, sadly, our government.

The trust of our patients and our community is everything to us. Philadelphia FIGHT Community Health Centers hopes all of our patients will want to be vaccinated by an approved COVID vaccine. When the vaccines are available to  us, we will vaccinate our patients who are interested, utilizing licensed and certified clinical staff who have been trained in vaccine administration, in an environment where all patients are monitored to assure that if any reaction occurs it will be addressed promptly and successfully. In the interest of speed, we hoped to be able to also offer our patients the option of mass vaccination sites if they prefer. But we, like everyone else, will be far more cautious in our referrals, as we have now seen what can happen without appropriate oversight.

We urge the City to have more transparency in the development and management of COVID mass vaccination sites, including setting standards for personnel, operating procedures, vaccine management and emergency response. We hope the city will immediately investigate what went wrong in their own process that allowed this to happen.

And we ask you to help us now by knowing Philadelphia FIGHT CHC has no connection to the PFC organization, and especially by letting your contacts in the community know this too.

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