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South Philly elected officials call on health department for more vaccine distribution sites

“We write to ask that the city work swiftly to support the opening of vaccination sites in South Philadelphia,” reads the letter signed by City Councilman Mark Squilla, state Sen. Nikil Saval and state Reps. Elizabeth Fiedler and Regina Young. “We are deeply concerned by the lack of COVID vaccine services being offered to residents of our respective districts in South Philadelphia, and South Philly as a whole.”

As the COVID-19 vaccine becomes increasingly more available to more and more Philadelphians, four local elected officials have voiced their concerns over the lack of access sites in South Philadelphia in an open letter written to Philadelphia health commissioner Tom Farley.

“We write to ask that the city work swiftly to support the opening of vaccination sites in South Philadelphia,” reads the letter signed by City Councilman Mark Squilla, state Sen. Nikil Saval and state Reps. Elizabeth Fiedler and Regina Young. “We are deeply concerned by the lack of COVID vaccine services being offered to residents of our respective districts in South Philadelphia, and South Philly as a whole.”

The city’s vaccine distribution site map reveals six locations south of Washington Avenue where residents can obtain the vaccine. A visual scan of the map shows vaccine sites more clustered in areas like Center City, North Philly and West Philly. 

“[A] huge swath of South Philadelphia is left dramatically unserved,” the officials wrote. 

They identified the need for vaccination sites for senior citizens specifically.

“Many senior citizens here who qualify for the vaccine are unable to travel the considerable  distance that is currently required of them to get the shot,” the letter says.

They also voiced their support for a proposal submitted to the city by Jefferson Health, in partnership with SEAMAAC and others, to create a vaccination site at their new health clinic — the Wyss Wellness Center — along with other possible locations. They also highlighted the necessity of diverse language-access plans for ensuring successful vaccination efforts.

“Our communities in South Philadelphia, particularly east of Broad, are home to many of the most recently arrived immigrant families; people are finding it hard enough to get information about vaccine phases and clinic locations, to have to navigate the system in one’s second or third language compounds this barrier exponentially.”

The letter adds that the city should take steps “to ensure that resources, including translated materials and linguistically and culturally appropriate staffing, are devoted to creating multilingual vaccination efforts.”

In his response, Farley said that his office is also “concerned that several of the areas of the City have poorer coverage than is optimal.”

The city’s health department, according to the response, is working to fix the issue in part by working to add more pharmacies to the city’s mix of distribution partners and contract with additional vaccinating agencies through the request for proposal process.

Farley said that the city has partnered with FEMA on type 1 sites, like the mass vaccination site at the Pennsylvania Convention Center and type 2 sites, which are “much smaller,” and requiring only 7,500 sq. ft. of space.

“We continue to work with the federal government to identify a location for this type of site,” read the response.

Farley added that “the ideal community vaccination site would have good access to transportation, allow for walk-ins, and be able to serve 500 people/day in an indoor setting.”

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