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Against the clock: A doctor's quest to get homebound residents vaccinated

Ellie Silverman, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in News & Features

PHILADELPHIA — Tarik Khan rushed to his car, carrying 10 syringes full of the coronavirus vaccine. He had only six hours to get them into the arms of some of Philadelphia's most vulnerable residents.

The family nurse practitioner climbed behind the wheel and turned the ignition. The gas light flashed on — already, a delay getting shots to people who are homebound and depending on him.

Vaccine vials are opened every day, but sometimes, people don't show up for appointments. That vaccine must still be administered within hours or it expires, creating Khan's unusual lottery.

Half of the 10 doses he had on a recent spring night were considered leftovers, shots that could mean the difference between health and hospitalization. But if the doses expired, Khan would have to throw them away. To him, a wasted vaccine is a sin.

His first possible recipient was Patricia Dorsey, an 80-year-old woman who is visually impaired and lives alone in Wynnefield Heights.

After wrapping up his eight-hour shift at the Family Practice and Counseling Network Abbottsford-Falls office, Khan called her. "Ms. Dorsey? Hi, I have the extra vaccine for you," he said. "Can I come over now?"


He pulled away from the Nicetown curb in search of a gas station. Khan had until 10 p.m. to vaccinate every person, their names and addresses handwritten on a piece of scrap paper.

He tucked his phone between his right hand and the steering wheel.

Five hours and 16 minutes to go

In Philadelphia, the Department of Public Health recommends that providers give leftover doses to eligible people who happen to still be at a clinic as it closes, or to anyone nearby. Some providers have a standby list or put out calls on social media. But there's no established system for pairing leftovers with residents who are homebound.


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