COVID-19 vaccines rolling out to Philly-area LGBTQ organizations

Mazzoni Center staff receiving COVID-19 vaccinations (Philadelphia Gay News photo)

By Sebastian Fortino

PHILADELPHIA — LGBTQ health organizations in Philadelphia have begun to vaccinate staff for COVID-19 and are eager to expand their reach. The Mazzoni Center, whose staff serves 7,600 patients, has inoculated close to 100 employees after receiving their first batch of vaccines, and they anticipate receiving another large shipment by last Tuesday.

“We are using a phased approach to prioritize order of vaccinations per city guidelines,” said Larry Benjamin, Director of Communications at Mazzoni Center. “Phase 1 eligible staff includes the staff and management of Prevention, Care Services and the Health Center because they have direct patient/client contact. Phase 2 eligible staff include staff who do not have direct patient/client interaction and/or who work remotely. Phase 3 will be for Mazzoni Center patients. We have already started vaccinating patients who are health care providers and will continue to do so.”

Statewide, the Wolf administration recently expanded eligibility for the vaccine, including for people living with HIV.

The Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center, along with the AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania, LGBT Center of Central Pennsylvania, Philadelphia FIGHT, The SERO Project, and the William Way LGBT Community Center sent the letter to outgoing state Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine and the Wolf administration asking for those living with HIV to be included in the initial vaccinations.

“The COVID-19 vaccine is safe, effective, and essential — especially for people living with HIV and other immunocompromised individuals,” said Adrian Shanker the executive director and founder of Allentown’s Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center. “That’s why Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center worked so hard to ensure that people living with HIV would be prioritized in Pennsylvania’s vaccine distribution plan. We are grateful that the governor has adjusted the state’s plan to ensure that people living with HIV can access this life saving vaccine without delay.”

Pa. to expand COVID-19 vaccine distribution to more people

Statewide, people living with HIV are now in group 1A. In Philadelphia, however, people with HIV are included in group 1B, which includes people with other high-risk medical conditions, including cancer, chronic kidney disease, and diabetes. Philadelphia follows different vaccine guidelines from the rest of the state. The city does not currently have an official sign-up form for the vaccine, though Health Commissioner Thomas Farley has said one should be available this week.

Those who sent the letter to Wolf are urging Farley to follow heed and expedite the vaccine for people living with HIV and other LGBTQ people in need as soon as possible.

“William Way LGBT Community Center is advocating strongly to ensure that those LGBTQ people who most urgently need the COVID vaccine have access, including people living with HIV, trans people, and the houseless. We’re very grateful to Governor Wolf for making the decision to include all people living with HIV in Phase 1A,” said Chris Bartlett, Executive Director of the William Way LGBT Community Center. “We demand that Philadelphia’s Health Commissioner Farley immediately follow suit.”

More than 100,000 people in Philadelphia have contracted COVID-19.

Sebastian Fortino is a reporter for the Philadelphia Gay News, where this story first appeared