Wealthy Americans Are Trying to Jump to the Front of the Vaccine Line
- 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)
Survey and Census Data Shows Record Number of Americans are Struggling Financially
Americans are choosing not to pursue medical treatment more and more frequently as they encounter money troubles.
A recent federal survey shows that a record number of Americans were worse off financially in 2022 than a year prior.
Coupled with recent census data showing pervasive poverty across much of the country, Americans are forced to make difficult decisions, like foregoing expensive healthcare.
According to a recent Federal Reserve Bureau survey, 35% of adults say they were worse off in 2022 than 2021, which is the highest share ever recorded since the question was raised in 2014.
Additionally, half of adults reported their budget was majorly affected by rising prices across the country, and that number is even higher among minority communities and parents living with their children.
According to recent census data, more than 10% of the counties in the U.S. are experiencing persistent poverty, meaning the area has had a poverty rate of 20% or higher between 1989 and 2019.
16 states report at least 10% of their population living in persistent poverty. But most of the suffering counties were found in the South — which accounts for over half the people living in persistent poverty, despite making up less than 40% of the population.
These financial realities have placed many Americans in the unfortunate situation of choosing between medical treatment and survival. The Federal Reserve study found that the share of Americans who skipped medical treatment because of the cost has drastically increased since 2020.
The reflection of this can be found in the overall health of households in different income brackets. 75% of households with an income of $25,000 or less report being in good health – compared to the 91% of households with $100,000 or more income.
See what others are saying: (Axios) (The Hill) (Federal Reserve)
Montana Governor Signs TikTok Ban
The ban will likely face legal challenges before it is officially enacted next year.
First Statewide Ban of TikTok
Montana became the first state to ban TikTok on Wednesday after Gov. Greg Gianforte (R) signed legislation aimed at protecting “Montanans’ personal and private data from the Chinese Communist Party.”
The ban will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2024, though the law will likely face a handful of legal challenges before that date.
Under the law, citizens of the state will not be held liable for using the app, but companies that offer the app on their platforms, like Apple and Google, will face a $10,000 fine per day of violations. TikTok would also be subject to the hefty daily fine.
Questions remain about how tech companies will practically enforce this law. During a hearing earlier this year, a representative from TechNet said that these platforms don’t have the ability to “geofence” apps by state.
Roger Entner, an analyst at Recon Analytics, told the Associated Press that app stores could have the capability to enforce the restriction, but it would be difficult to carry out and there would be a variety of loopholes by tools like VPNs.
Montana’s law comes as U.S. politicians have taken aim at TikTok over its alleged ties to the CCP. Earlier this year, the White House directed federal agencies to remove TikTok from government devices. Conservatives, in particular, have been increasingly working to restrict the app.
“The Chinese Communist Party using TikTok to spy on Americans, violate their privacy, and collect their personal, private, and sensitive information is well-documented,” Gov. Gianforte said in a Wednesday statement.
Criticism of Montana Law
TikTok, however, has repeatedly denied that it gives user data to the government. The company released a statement claiming Montana’s law “infringes on the First Amendment rights of the people” in the state.
“We want to reassure Montanans that they can continue using TikTok to express themselves, earn a living, and find community as we continue working to defend the rights of our users inside and outside of Montana,” the company said.
The American Civil Liberties Union condemned Montana’s law for similar reasons.
“This law tramples on our free speech rights under the guise of national security and lays the groundwork for excessive government control over the internet,” the ACLU tweeted. “Elected officials do not have the right to selectively censor entire social media apps based on their country of origin.”
Per the AP, there are 200,000 TikTok users in Montana, and another 6,000 businesses use the platform as well. Lawsuits are expected to be filed against the law in the near future.
See what others are saying: (Associated Press) (Fast Company) (CBS News)
How a Disney-Loving Former Youth Pastor Landed on The FBI’s “Most Wanted” List
“Do what is best, not for yourself, for once. Think about everyone else,” Chris Burns’ 19-year-old son pleaded to his father via The Daily Beast.
Multi-Million Dollar Scheme
Former youth pastor turned financial advisor Chris Burns remains at large since going on the run in September of 2020 to avoid a Securities Exchange Commission investigation into his businesses.
Despite his fugitive status, the Justice Department recently indicted Burns with several more charges on top of the $12 million default judgment he received from the SEC.
Burns allegedly sold false promissory notes to investors across Georgia, North Carolina, and Florida. The SEC claims he told the investors they were participating in a “peer to peer” lending program where businesses that needed capital would borrow money and then repay it with interest as high as 20%. Burns allegedly also reassured investors that the businesses had collateral so the investment was low-risk.
The SEC says that Burns instead took that money for personal use.
Burns began his adult life as a youth pastor back in 2007 before transitioning into financial planning a few years later. By 2017, he launched his own radio show, The Chris Burns Show, which was funded by one of his companies, Dynamic Money – where every week Burns would “unpack how this week’s headlines practically impact your life, wallet, and future,” according to the description. He also frequently appeared on television and online, talking about finances and politics.
The SEC alleges that he used his public appearances to elevate his status as a financial advisor and maximize his reach to investors.
His family told The Daily Beast that he became obsessed with success and he reportedly bought hand-made clothes, a million-dollar lakehouse, a boat, several cars, and took his family on several trips to Disney World. His eldest son and wife said that Burns was paying thousands of dollars a day for VIP tours and once paid for the neighbors to come along.
Then in September 2020, he reportedly told his wife that he was being investigated by the Securities Exchange Commission but he told her not to worry.
The day that he was supposed to turn over his business documents to the SEC, he disappeared, telling his wife he was just going to take a trip to North Carolina to tell his parents about the investigation. Then, the car was found abandoned in a parking lot with several cashier’s checks totaling $78,000
FBI’s Most Wanted
The default judgment in the SEC complaint orders Burns, if he’s ever found, to pay $12 million to his victims, as well as over $650,000 in a civil penalty. Additionally, a federal criminal complaint charged him with mail fraud. Burns is currently on the FBI’s Most Wanted list.
Last week, the Justice Department indicted him on several other charges including 10 counts of wire fraud and two counts of mail fraud.
“Burns is charged for allegedly stealing millions of dollars from clients in an illegal investment fraud scheme,” Keri Farley, Special Agent in Charge of FBI Atlanta, said in a statement to The Daily Beast. “Financial crimes of this nature can cause significant disruptions to the lives of those who are victimized, and the FBI is dedicated to holding these criminals accountable.”
His family maintains that they knew nothing of Burns’ schemes. His wife reportedly returned over $300,000 that he had given to her.
She and their eldest son, who is now 19, told The Daily Beast they just want Burns to turn himself in, take responsibility for his actions, and try to help the people he hurt.
“Do what is best, not for yourself, for once. Think about everyone else,” Burns’ son said in a message to his father via The Daily Beast.