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Secretary Mayorkas is spearheading FEMA’s collaboration with the City of Philadelphia to open the city’s first mass-vaccination site. Photo: Nigel Thompson/AL DÍA File
Secretary Mayorkas is spearheading FEMA’s collaboration with the City of Philadelphia to open the city’s first mass-vaccination site. Photo: Nigel Thompson/AL DÍA File

DHS Sec. Mayorkas, FEMA join Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney to unveil Convention Center Vaccination Site

Philadelphia has been chosen to host a mass vaccination center, capable of providing up to 6,000 vaccines a day. 

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For his first trip out of the White House in his new role as Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary, Alejandro Mayorkas paid a visit to Philadelphia to unveil FEMA’s latest mass-vaccination site in Center City. 

The site, located at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia, is designed to provide up to 6,000 vaccines per day, and is scheduled to open fully on March 3. 

It will operate for eight weeks, from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. 

Vaccines provided for the vaccination center are in addition to the city’s regular allocations, and will not affect ongoing supply and distribution efforts in Philadelphia. 

The goal, according to FEMA, is to continue to expand the vaccination rate in an “efficient, effective, and equitable manner, with an explicit focus on communities with a high risk of COVID-19.” 

“We are extremely honored, Mr. Secretary, that you chose Philadelphia for your first trip out of D.C,” Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said in his introductory remarks. “It is personally a great thrill to welcome to Philadelphia a member of a White House team that is working relentlessly to mitigate the effects of this pandemic. Imagine that. The White House is actually trying to save lives. What a difference that makes.”

In a way reminiscent of FEMA, Kenney stressed equitable access to the vaccine, saying the “operation will go a long way in helping us deliver the vaccine to Philadelphians who actually really need it,” especially vulnerable communities who have suffered the highest death tolls. 

However as the Philadelphia Inquirer reported March 1, those yet unqualified to receive the vaccine are finding loopholes. A private online link was leaked, resulting in FEMA’s mass-vaccine site to be inundated with illegitimate vaccine appointments. 

To this, Kenney suggested people should examine their conscience. 

“Have some self respect and understand that people who you’re jumping the line on may get sick, and may die as a result of it. Secondly, we’re working with our I.T. provider to come up with a solution,” he said.

The mayor went on to say that the site will prioritize eligible residents from phases 1A and 1B, who have signed up on the Philadelphia COVID-19 vaccine interest form. 

He explained that vaccines being used at the Center City vaccination site are from a federal allotment, allowing the health department to continue setting up vaccination sites directly at neighborhoods with the city’s own allotment. 

It will be largely staffed by military personnel giving the city the freedom to work in other locations throughout the city. 

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The Convention Center was previously selected as the site for Philadedlphia’s ill-fated partnership with Philly Fighting Covid. On March 2, Kenney added the site was chosen for its accessibility via public transportation. There will also be designated drop-off and pickup locations by the building for vaccine recipients. 

The parking authority is also offering reduced fare and free parking near the Convention Center for individuals to get their vaccine. The ease of access, Kenney added, “will go a long way in making sure lower income residents, particularly Black and Brown residents, can be part of this great opportunity, and in turn that will enhance our efforts in ensuring equity in the vaccination process.”

Kenney added that all city-run vaccine sites, as well as the convention site, will provide translation services for residents who need them. 

Mayorkas stressed the personal feat that was setting up the vaccination site. Just weeks into his role as DHS secretary, Mayorkas is the first Latino to lead the agency tasked with tackling immigration, foreign relations, and COVID-19 response at the top of his list. 

As head of the DHS, Mayorkas also leads FEMA.

“Biden’s challenge to FEMA to set up 100 federally supported community vaccination centers in 30 days. FEMA did not stand up 100 community vaccination centers in 30 days. They stood up 441. Today the number is well over 500 and growing to the day,” he said. 

Mayorkas, too, emphasized equity, specifically when immigration status comes into play. 

“Socioeconomic status, your race, your access to transportation, or your immigration status, should not impact if you are able to receive the vaccine. To those who lack status in this community, I would like to say this: Immigration and Customs Enforcement, ICE, as it is commonly known, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection, or CBP, will not conduct immigration enforcement operations at or near vaccine distribution sites or clinics,” Mayorkas said. 

He added his agency is mindful that people need access to medical attention in the fight against the pandemic, “irrespective” of their immigration status in the United States. 

It is still to be seen how equity and access will truly be addressed through the vaccination process.

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