A Friday report by the Los Angeles Times described a struggle for celebrities and other upper class Americans to receive the coronavirus vaccine before medical workers and vulnerable citizens.
Dr. Ehsan Ali serves patients like Justin Bieber and Ariana Grande, earning thousands per customer every year for the privilege. But as vaccines to finally shut down the novel coronavirus pandemic roll out across the country, he is one of many “concierge” physicians forced to tell their big name clients they might have to sit tight. “We get hundreds of calls every single day,” he told the L.A. Times on Friday. “This is the first time where I have not been able to get something for my patients.”
Dr. Jeff Toll is in a similar position. Toll has admittance privileges at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, one of the first hospitals in the country to stock the coronavirus vaccine. He said he was asked if a $25,000 “donation” would help an unidentified patient “get in line,” and had to turn them away. The truth, however, is that those denials are unlikely to last long. America’s elite class commonly use their wallets to put themselves ahead of the country in general, and wheels are already in motion to do the same here.
“As soon as we heard about the vaccine coming to market, we started looking for freezers,” said Andrew Olanow, co-founder of Sollis Health. His concierge medical service is waiting on the delivery of six ultra-low temperature freezers to store the vaccine. While doctors across the country are scrambling to figure out when and how they will be able to get the vaccine to their most vulnerable patients, these ultra-luxe medical services have already applied to California health officials for approval to store and administer the vaccine.
And while the U.S. government is currently controlling the national distribution of the vaccine, it is just a matter of time. “We’re governed by the Hippocratic oath, the responsibility to provide care for the people who need it most,” said Concierge MD LA founder Dr. Abe Malkin, a “house-call medical service” that runs up to $750 per month. “But at the same time, there’s obviously going to be gray areas based on individual patients’ needs.”
In response to the potential for exploitation, California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) offered vague assurances despite his checkered history regarding his own rules on the coronavirus pandemic: “Those that think they can get ahead of the line and those that think because they have resources or they have relationships that will allow them to do it … we also will be monitoring that very, very closely,” he said, promising the state will be “very aggressive” in assuring that those “with means” do not use them to cut in line.
The question is how long those indistinct measures will hold back the tide. “With enough money and influence, you can make a convincing argument about anything,” said Glenn Ellis, a bioethicist and a visiting scholar at Tuskegee University. Alison Bateman-House, an assistant professor of medical ethics at NYU, echoed the sentiment. “Every system has a weak link somewhere, and I’m sure someone is going to find it and someone’s going to exploit it.”