By Michael D’Onofrio
PHILADELPHIA — The political “food fight” between City Council and the Kenney administration over the city’s COVID-19 vaccination plan heated up this week as legislators passed a resolution calling on the mayor to implement their own proposals.
The non-binding resolution amounted to an on-the-record no-confidence vote in the Kenney administration’s COVID-19 vaccination program to date. Councilwoman Helen Gym was the only dissenting vote.
The resolution called on Kenney to grant legislators more input over the city’s COVID-19 vaccination plans and open mega vaccination sites throughout the city, including at Lincoln Financial Field, when more vaccines become available.
At-large Councilman Allan Domb, the main sponsor of the proposal called “Operation Philly Special,” slammed Kenney for a lack of leadership, pitting “one community against another” over access to the city’s COVID-19 vaccines, and failing to have a comprehensive plan to vaccinate residents after nearly a year of living under the pandemic.
Without a more detailed vaccination plan from the administration, Domb demanded Kenney partner with legislators to “pull together a new plan, one that is big enough and bold enough to meet the health crisis of our generation.”
James Engler, the mayor’s chief of staff, said in an email he appreciated Domb’s comments and continued requests to work with the administration on its vaccine program.
Engler said the Kenney administration was focused on expanding the capacity of indoor venues through its own program and partnership with the federal government. The city has not ruled out using outdoor venues as vaccination sites in the future.
“All of this work will continue to focus on ensuring racial equity in our program,” Engler said, “including oversampling previously under served communities in our community vaccination clinics, expanding vaccine doses to FQHCs [federally qualified health centers] and community providers like the Black Doctor’s COVID-19 Consortium and working with all these partners to expand their vaccine throughput.”
The move was the latest in the fallout over the Kenney administration’s botched partnership with Philly Fighting COVID, the group of self-described “college kids” with no prior experience that the administration tapped to run COVID-19 testing sites and a mass vaccination site.
The Kenney administration severed ties with the group last month over a raft of issues. Legislators have since demanded answers and more oversight of the city’s vaccination program.
The proposal from legislators also called on the Kenney administration to dedicate adequate resources to mass vaccination sites; work with SEPTA to hash out a transportation plan to assist underserved communities access to those sites; and establish a city-run vaccine registration system, Domb said.
Gym said she was not yet ready to vote on the resolution, which was introduced that day, due to uncertainty about the current state of discussions with the Kenney administration.
“I’m not comfortable voting for a resolution on the same day that it’s introduced especially when it has to do with some serious issues around public confidence and trust,” Gym said.
City Council President Darrell Clarke, who rarely makes speeches about legislation before voting, said district council members, like himself, should select locations for vaccination sites in their districts.
“Council members have the basic knowledge of neighborhoods like mayors just don’t, that’s just the simple reality,” Clarke said.
The council president suggested there may be some willingness from the Kenney administration to partner with legislators over COVID-19 vaccine distribution. He called on both sides to work together rather than have a “food fight on the floor of council”
As city legislators continued a political tug of war over control of the city’s vaccination program, changes may soon be coming.
A source in the Kenney administration said a “major announcement” about a federally supported vaccination site in Philadelphia was expected by Saturday. “The process working with the federal government has been ongoing for several weeks,” said the source.
The city currently receives 25,000 doses of vaccine a week. Hospitals, health clinics and pharmacies are currently distributing the city’s vaccines. Remote vaccine sites are also held throughout the city outside groups, including the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium.
Michael D’Onofrio is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared.