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Wealthy Americans Are Trying to Jump to the Front of the Vaccine Line

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  • Health care workers and other high-risk populations are starting to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Doses will not be available to the general public for many months, but wealthy people are trying to angle their way to the front of the line.
  • High-end medical practices are receiving hundreds of calls from patients who want to get the vaccine as soon as possible, per a report from the Los Angeles Times. Some have asked if $25,000 donations to hospitals could earn them a shot.
  • These practices are used to giving their affluent patients whatever they want, but for the first time are having to tell them no. Right now, the vaccines by Pfizer and Moderna are not for purchase by private citizens and the government is in charge of distribution.
  • Still, concierge doctors are trying to make sure they have doses ready to go the second it is possible. Watchdogs also say that well-connected people might try to rig the system to get it soon, either via a vaccine black market or by trying to argue that they are among a priority population.

The Pandemic Has Favored Wealthy People

Now that the coronavirus vaccine is being distributed to healthcare workers and long-term care patients in all 50 states, wealthy people are doing everything they can to make sure they are next to get it.

The Food and Drug Administration has so far approved two vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna, and both cannot be bought. The government is distributing them to hospitals and care facilities where they are to be administered to those the CDC and other leading officials have given priority to. After healthcare workers and nursing home residents get it, essential workers and immunocompromised individuals are next. It will be months before they are available to the general public. 

But wealthy people have been able to rig the pandemic in their favor since it began and they intend to keep that pattern up. When testing was scarce in March and April, those with money were able to shell out hundreds of dollars on tests while those working in hospitals or experiencing severe symptoms were left empty-handed. When it comes to treatment, people like President Donald Trump and his personal lawyer Rudy Guiliani got experimental antibody treatments after their COVID-19 diagnoses. This fast-tracked their recovery time and potentially saved them from a much more severe illness. This is a privilege they know is available to them. 

“If it wasn’t me, I wouldn’t have been put in a hospital frankly,” Giuliani told WABC radio in New York. “Sometimes when you’re a celebrity, they’re worried if something happens to you they’re going to examine it more carefully, and do everything right.”

Affluent people have been getting this A-list treatment despite the fact that they already have everything tool available to avoid ever coming across the virus in the first place. 

“They are among the most capable of mitigating the dangers of exposure for themselves,” Shamus Khan, professor of sociology and American studies at Princeton University wrote for The Washington Post. “Most can get their groceries delivered without any social contact. They are more likely to work the kinds of jobs that can be performed remotely.”

However, Khan added that wealthy people are also “more likely to be selfish and act unethically.”

“They are more likely to think of themselves as more important than other people and less likely to give to others,” he wrote, linking to numerous studies proving this pattern of behavior. 

Attempts to Buy a Spot In the Front of The Vaccine Line

Because of this, and the fact that people with money are seldom told they cannot spend it on whatever they want, they are using their heavy pockets to do anything they can to boost their place in line. 

Dr. Jeff Toll, who has admitting privileges at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center told the Los Angeles Times that he received a call from a patient who asked, “If I donate $25,000 to Cedars, would that help me get in line?” The answer was “no.”

“We get hundreds of calls every single day,” said Dr. Ehsan Ali, who runs Beverly Hills Concierge Doctor told the L.A. Times. “This is the first time where I have not been able to get something for my patients.”

California’s elite, which includes everyone from movie stars to tech CEOs, are not looking to hear “no” as an answer. 

“These people don’t usually have to wait,” Dr. Toll told ABC 7

Dr. David Nazarian, of My Concierge MD in Beverly Hills, told the outlet that many high-profile clients are waving money in an effort to get vaccinated.

“They wanted it yesterday,” Dr. Nazarian said ABC 7. “We will play by the rules but are doing everything we can to secure and distribute the vaccine when it’s available to us.”

Now, doctors for the rich are working to make sure that when the time comes, their clients are first. 

“As soon as we heard about the vaccine coming to market, we started looking for freezers,” Andrew Olanow, co-founder of concierge practice Sollis Health told the L.A. Times. Pfizer’s and Moderna’s vaccines must be kept in ultracold temperatures. The freezers that can store them are expensive and not easily accessible. 

Sollis told the Times that “larger governmental orders” sucked up most of the supply and that he will have to wait a month to get the six he ordered. Clinics just placing their orders now will have to wait even longer. 

How Money and Power Can Get the Vaccine

Some leaders are trying to ensure that well-to-do people do not see big vaccine privileges. California Governor Gavin Newsom has said the state will be “very aggressive in making sure that those with means, those with influence, are not crowding out those that are most deserving of the vaccines.”

Still, the vaccine is already landing in the hands of those with influence. Vice President Mike Pence, who spent months downplaying the severity of the coronavirus with the rest of the Trump Administration, publicly took the vaccine on Friday. Several senators, many of whom are stalling on passing legislation to provide relief to the millions of Americans who have been suffering most of the year as a result of this pandemic, have also gotten the highly sought after shot. 

“Vaccine privilege worries me,” wrote epidemiologist and health economist Dr. Eric Feigl-Ding. “Well connected athletes, politicians, & the wealthy will manage to get special early access to the COVID19 vaccine before they are supposed to. The special treatment will degrade public trust. We must be ready to call it out.”

“We know it will be coming, either via direct black market sales or fudging during the ‘high risk’ population rollout phase.”

The L.A. Times said that the scarcity of COVID-19 vaccines could lead to a “thriving black market.” Well-connected people in the medical field could give doses to friends, family, or even sell them off if the price is right. 

That’s not the only way wealthy people might be able to maneuver their way into early vaccination. Essential workers and those with pre-existing conditions are in the second phase of many states’ rollout plans and the definitions of both leave room for a wide gray area. This means that affluent people might be able to argue their way into a vaccine, saying that their job or a condition they have makes them deserving of a shot. 

“With enough money and influence, you can make a convincing argument about anything,” Glenn Ellis, a bioethicist and a visiting scholar at Tuskegee University told the Times. Others have similar concerns. 

“Every system has a weak link somewhere, and I’m sure someone is going to find it and someone’s going to exploit it,” Alison Bateman-House, an assistant professor of medical ethics at New York University told the outlet. “The question is: Where’s that weak link going to be, and how quickly will it be identified and stopped?”

See what others are saying: (Washington Post) (Los Angeles Times) (ABC 7)

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New COVID-19 Variant Could Become Dominant in the U.S. by March, CDC Warns

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  • The CDC warned Friday that a new highly transmissible COVID-19 variant could become the predominant variant in the United States by March.
  • The strain was first reported in the United Kingdom in December and is now in at least 10 states.
  • The CDC used a modeled trajectory to discover how quickly the variant could spread in the U.S. and said that this could threaten the country’s already overwhelmed healthcare system.

CDC Issues Warning

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned Friday that the new COVID-19 variant could become the predominant variant in the United States by March.

While it is not known to be more deadly, it does spread at a higher rate, which is troubling considering the condition the U.S. is already in. Cases and deaths are already on the rise in nearly every state and globally, 2 million lives have been lost to the coronavirus. 

The variant was first reported in the United Kingdom in mid-December. It is now in 30 countries, including the U.S., where cases have been located in at least ten states. Right now, only 76 cases of this variant have been confirmed in the U.S., but experts believe that number is likely much higher and said it will increase significantly in the coming weeks. It is already a dominant strain in parts of the U.K.

Modeled trajectory shows that growth in the U.S. could be so fast that it dominates U.S. cases just three months into the new year. This could pose a huge threat to our already strained healthcare system.

Mitigating Spread of Variant

“I want to stress that we are deeply concerned that this strain is more transmissible and can accelerate outbreaks in the U.S. in the coming weeks,” said Dr. Jay Butler, deputy director for infectious diseases at the CDC told the New York Times. “We’re sounding the alarm and urging people to realize the pandemic is not over and in no way is it time to throw in the towel.”

The CDC advises that health officials use this time to limit spread and increase vaccination as much as possible in order to mitigate the impact this variant will have. Experts believe that current vaccines will protect against this strain.

“Effective public health measures, including vaccination, physical distancing, use of masks, hand hygiene, and isolation and quarantine, will be essential,” the CDC said in their report.

“Strategic testing of persons without symptoms but at higher risk of infection, such as those exposed to SARS-CoV-2 or who have frequent unavoidable contact with the public, provides another opportunity to limit ongoing spread.”

See what others are saying: (Wall Street Journal) (New York Times) (NBC News)

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Former Michigan Gov. and 8 Others Charged Over Flint Water Crisis

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Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder. (Al Goldis/AP)

  • Ex-Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder was charged with two counts of willful neglect of duty Wednesday for his role in the Flint water crisis
  • By Thursday, eight more former state and city officials were charged with crimes ranging from involuntary manslaughter to extortion.
  • Flint residents have long awaited this news. In 2019, prosecutors dropped all criminal charges against 15 officials and said they would start the investigation from scratch, citing concerns about how the special counsel had conducted its probe.

Rick Snyder Charges

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office said Thursday that it had filed 41 charges against nine former state and city officials for their role in the Flint water crisis.

The most high-profile figure to be charged was former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder. On Wednesday, he was hit with two counts of willful neglect of duty.

He was the state’s top executive when local officials decided to switch the city’s drinking water source to the Flint River in 2014.

The switch was supposed to be a temporary cost-saving measure while a pipeline was being built to Lake Huron. However, the water wasn’t treated properly for corrosion, so lead-contaminated water was released into the homes of people all over the city. Because of that, 12 people died and at least 90 were sickened with Legionnaires’ disease.

Snyder appeared in court this morning via Zoom, pleading not guilty to the two misdemeanor charges. If convicted he could face up to a year in prison and as much as a $1,000 fine.

His charges alone are significant because they make him the first governor or former governor in the state to ever be charged with a crime for alleged conduct while in office.

8 Others Charged

Along with Snyder, eight others were charged, including a former state health director Nick Lyon. Lyon received nine charges of involuntary manslaughter, among others.

Richard Baird, one of Snyder’s closes advisors was changed for extortion, perjury, and obstructions of justice. Others who were charged include:

  • Jarrod Agen, Snyder’s former chief of staff and Vice President Mike Pence’s former communications director.
  • Dr. Eden Wells, a former chief medical executive for the state Department of Health and Human Services. 
  • Darnell Earley, former Flint finance director and state-appointed emergency manager.
  • Gerald Ambrose, former state-appointed emergency manager.
  • Howard Croft, former Flint Public Works Director.
  • Nancy Peeler, the state’s director of maternal, infant and early childhood home visiting for the health department.

Flint residents have waited a long time for justice over the water contamination issue. Prosecutors previously dropped all 15 criminal charges tied to the Flint case in 2019 and said the investigation would begin again from scratch.

At the time, they cited concerns about how the special counsel had conducted its probe.

It also wasn’t until last year that the state reached a $600 million settlement with victims, establishing a fund from which residents can file for compensation.

See what others are saying: (NPR) (The Detroit News) (Detroit Free Press)

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Three Lawmakers Test Positive for COVID-19 Following Capitol Attack

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  • At least three Congressmembers have tested positive for COVID-19 following Wednesday’s pro-Trump attack on the Capitol. 
  • Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ), Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), and Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.) believe they contracted the virus after locking down in close quarters with numerous Republican lawmakers who refused to wear masks.
  • Jayapal and Schneider are calling for those who did not wear a mask to face consequences.

Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman Tests Positive

At least three members of Congress have tested positive for COVID-19 after locking down in close quarters with other House members during Wednesday’s pro-Trump attack on the Capitol. 

Congress’ attending physician, Brian Monahan, warned that members may have been exposed during the lockdown. He recommended that everyone who was isolated inside should get tested for the virus. 

On Monday Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) became the first to announce that she tested positive. Watson Coleman believes she was exposed while in the Capitol lockdown. In her statement, she cited the multiple Republicans who refused to wear masks while inside. Video footage from Punchbowl News shows a Democratic lawmaker handing out masks and a handful of Republicans declining to take one. 

Watson Coleman is a 75-year-old lung cancer survivor. While she said she is only experiencing cold-like symptoms, she tweeted that per a doctor’s suggestion, she headed to a local hospital for antibody treatment. She also encouraged those who sheltered in place to get tested. 

More Cases Follow

Later on Monday, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) said she too had tested positive, also blaming a lack of mask-wearing in the Capitol. In a lengthy Twitter thread, she said Republicans created a superspreader event and demanded consequences for their actions. 

Many Republicans still refused to take the bare minimum COVID-19 precaution and simply wear a damn mask in a crowded room during a pandemic—creating a superspreader event ON TOP of a domestic terrorist attack,” she wrote. 

“Any Member who refuses to wear a mask should be fully held accountable,” Jayapal added. 

“I’m calling for every single Member who refuses to wear a mask in the Capitol to be fined and removed from the floor by the Sergeant at Arms.”

Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.) echoed her frustrations on Tuesday after releasing a statement saying he has become the third House member to have tested positive following the lockdown. 

“Today, I am now in strict isolation, worried that I have risked my wife’s health and angry at the selfishness and arrogance of the anti-maskers who put their own contempt and disregard for decency ahead of the health and safety of their colleagues and our staff,” he wrote.

Like Jayapal, he is calling for sanctions against those who opted to not wear masks. 

Many health officials feared that this lockdown could lead to a surge in cases. They also worry that the mob itself could lead to a superspreader event as most of those who attacked the Capitol were not wearing masks and were crowding together both inside and outside of the building.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NPR) (NBC Chicago)

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