Image: Walk-up vaccination clinic opens at Health Center 3

Health Center 3 at 555 S. 43rd Street.

A walk-up COVID-19 vaccination clinic has been operating Wednesday in West Philadelphia for the last two weeks – and now it is opening up to all adult Philadelphians.

The Walk-up Wednesday program operates at three locations across the city, including Health Center 3 at 555 S. 43rd Street. It is open every Wednesday and at Health Center 3 it runs from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Starting this week, it will be open to all city residents who are 18 years old and older, according to Philadelphia Health Department Spokesperson James Garrow. As the name suggests, people can walk to the clinic at its Chester Street entrance and get vaccinated – and they do not need to schedule appointments.

The program began April 7 and was initially open to only Philadelphians ages 65 and older. Garrow said that the program has been expanded to all Philadelphian adults, because the city’s vaccine supply has begun to outpace demand. He said removing the inconvenience of registration would make the inoculation process easier and could help increase vaccine uptake.

“Because we’re having difficulty filling appointments, we really do feel that it needs to start vaccinating everyone and opening it up to phase two [all adults] will get more people vaccinated,” Garrowsaid.“This is just an effort to continue to fill those appointment slots, and where available, to have access to the walk up for folks who might need that extra freedom to be able to get vaccinated when it works for them.”  

At a press conference outside Health Center 3 last Wednesday, West Philadelphia Councilmember Jamie Gauthier praised the center’s medical workers and their efforts to inoculate and protect their community.

“Thanks so much to all the staff at Health Center 3 for everything you do to keep our community safe, day in and day out!” Gauthier wrote in a Facebook post after the event.

The program is currently using the Moderna vaccine, which is given in two doses, and where the second does, Garrow said, can be administered around 21 to 42 days after the first (with 28 days being the standard time for the Moderna vaccine.)

Garrow added that people could get their second shot at the Walk-up Wednesday site, or at a larger site, like the Esperanza Community Vaccination Center in North Philadelphia’s Hunting Park or the Pennsylvania Convention Center.

The Walk-up Wednesday sites were initially distributing the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The change to Moderna was made after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration recommended on April 13 that state and local governments suspend the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine – a recommendation that was made after six women between the ages 18 and 48 years old received a Johnson & Johnson vaccine and developed rare blood clots after their shot. (Only these six people out of the 6.8 million people who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, or less than 0.0001%, developed these blood clots.)

Garrow said that if the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is reapproved for certain age or gender groups, the city may begin using it again for those groups in the Walk-up Wednesday program – or even reserve the Walk-up Wednesday program for those groups only so the Johnson & Johnson shot can be used at Walk-up Wednesday sites. He noted that the one-shot regimen has the potential to help with fully inoculating people who would have more difficulty returning for a second dose but emphasized that the city would wait for a ruling from federal regulators.

“[Johnson & Johnson] is the kind of vaccine we want to use for when it’s difficult to get folks to come back, or it may be difficult for folks to take the time to get a second vaccine,” Garrow said. “It’s up in the air based on what the CDC and the [federal Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices] make a recommendation for.”

The two vaccines currently in use in the United States, the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines, proved to be about 95% effective at preventing symptomatic COVID-19 in clinical trials with tens of thousands of participants. And both vaccines are virtually perfect in preventing death from COVID-19.

Vaccination programs like Walk-up Wednesdays are being launched as the city struggles to ensure that vaccines are distributed to city residents efficiently and equitably. According to the most recent data compiled by the health department, 35% of white Philadelphians and 40% of Asian Philadelphians had received at least one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine by April 11 – while only 19% of Black Philadelphians and 19% of Hispanic Philadelphians had received theirs. Gauthier and her colleagues on the City Council, as well as social justice advocates, have called on the city to work to close this gap.

Philadelphia Health Commissioner Thomas Farley has raised additional concerns about the ability of elderly Philadelphians to access vaccines. Although older persons are at particularly high risk of dying of COVID-19, and have been eligible for the vaccine for weeks, only 54% of Philadelphians ages 75 years old and older and 44% of Philadelphians 65-74 have received at least one shot, as of April 11. Farley has said he is concerned that universal adult eligibility, which began in Philadelphia on Friday, could crowd out the elderly and further frustrate efforts to prioritize the city’s most vulnerable.

Garrow said he believed that programs like Walk-up Wednesdays at Health Center 3, as well as the Esperanza Center, could help alleviate these concerns. He said a process by which Philadelphians who lack internet access could easily access vaccines could help the elderly access vaccines and reduce racial inequity.

“It’s one of the main goals of walk-up clinics,” Garrow said, referring to racial equity. “It tends to be richer and whiter folks who can navigate the online system and get those appointments, so to even have a walk-up system, is beneficial from a racial equity standpoint.”

Garrow also encouraged the city’s vaccine providers which are not directly run by the city to prioritize the elderly if they do encounter a shortage of vaccines.

“We are definitely still pushing and strongly recommending that if there is a choice between vaccinating two people in Philadelphia, the one over 65 should be the one that gets vaccinated first,” Garrow said.  

The move to expand eligibility for Walk-up Wednesdays mirrors the city’s move to open up eligibility to all Philadelphians for whom the vaccines are FDA approved. All Philadelphians 16 years old and older are now eligible to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, and all Philadelphians 18 and older are eligible to receive the Moderna vaccine. This decision is in accordance with the guidelines set by President Joe Biden, who had tasked all state and local governments with expanding vaccine eligibility to all adults by Monday.

According to the city health department, about 460,000 people who live in Philadelphia, along with more than 190,000 people who work in Philadelphia, have received at least one shot from the city’s federally allocated vaccine supply. Overall, about 29.1% of Philadelphia resident have received at least one dose. In the University City zip codes, the share of residents at least partially vaccinated ranges about from about 22.2% to 31.8%. According to the CDC, 39% of Americans nationwide has received at least one vaccine dose.

The large scale of these vaccination efforts is desperately needed. The coronavirus has infected about 140,000 Philadelphians and 31.6 million Americans – with more than 3,390 Philadelphians, 566,000 Americans, and three million people worldwide having died of COVID-19. And over the last week, an average of about 40,000 Americans and 657 Philadelphians have been getting infected each day.

Garrow said that programs like Walk-up Wednesday program would be important tool in ensuring all Philadelphians are protected from the coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s been our goal to get as many folks vaccinated as possible,” Garrow said. “The idea behind these Walk-up Wednesdays is that we want to make this as easy as possible for folks.”

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