- 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)
Lincoln College to Close for Good After COVID and Ransomware Attack Ruin Finances
Last year, 1,043 schools in the U.S. were the victim of ransomware attacks, including 26 colleges or universities, according to an analysis by Emsisoft.
One of the Only Historically Black Colleges in the Midwest Goes Down
After 157 years of educating mostly Black students in Illinois, Lincoln College will close its doors for good on Friday.
The college made the announcement last month, citing financial troubles caused by the coronavirus pandemic and a ransomware attack in December.
Enrollment dropped during the pandemic and the administration had to make costly investments in technology and campus safety measures, according to a statement from the school.
A shrinking endowment put additional pressure on the college’s budget.
The ransomware attack, which the college has said originated from Iran, thwarted admissions activities and hindered access to all institutional data. Systems for recruitment, retention, and fundraising were completely inoperable at a time when the administration needed them most.
In March, the college paid the ransom, which it has said amounted to less than $100,000. But according to Lincoln’s statement, subsequent projections showed enrollment shortfalls so significant the college would need a transformational donation or partnership to make it beyond the present semester.
The college put out a request for $50 million in a last-ditch effort to save itself, but no one came forward to provide it.
A GoFundMe aiming to raise $20 million for the college only collected $2,452 as of Tuesday.
Students and Employees Give a Bittersweet Goodbye
“The loss of history, careers, and a community of students and alumni is immense,” David Gerlach, the college’s president, said in a statement.
Lincoln counts nearly 1,000 enrolled students, and those who did not graduate this spring will leave the institution without degrees.
Gerlach has said that 22 colleges have worked with Lincoln to accept the remaining students, including their credits, tuition prices, and residency requirements.
“I was shocked and saddened by that news because of me being a freshman, so now I have to find someplace for me to go,” one student told WMBD News after the closure was announced.
When a group of students confronted Gerlach at his office about the closure, he responded with an emotional speech.
“I have been fighting hard to save this place,” he said. “But resources are resources. We’ve done everything we possibly could.”
On April 30, alumni were invited back to the campus to revisit the highlights of their college years before the institution closed.
On Saturday, the college held its final graduation ceremony, where over 200 students accepted their diplomas and Quentin Brackenridge performed the Lincoln Alma Mater.
Last year, 1,043 schools in the U.S. were the victim of ransomware attacks, including 26 colleges or universities, according to an analysis by Emsisoft.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Herald Review) (CNN)
U.S. Tops One Million Coronavirus Deaths, WHO Estimates 15 Million Worldwide
India’s real COVID death toll stands at about 4.7 million, ten times higher than official data, the WHO estimated.
One Million Dead
The United States officially surpassed one million coronavirus deaths Wednesday, 26 months after the first death was reported in late February of 2020.
Experts believe that figure is likely an undercount, since there are around 200,000 excess deaths, though some of those may not be COVID-related.
The figure is the equivalent of the population of San Jose, the tenth-largest city in the U.S., vanishing in just over two years. To put the magnitude in visual perspective, NECN published a graphic illustrating what one million deaths looks like.
At the beginning of the pandemic, the White House predicted between 100,000 and 240,000 Americans would die from the coronavirus in a best-case scenario.
By February 2021, over half a million Americans had died of COVID.
The coronavirus has become the third leading cause of death in the U.S. behind heart disease and cancer.
The pandemic’s effects go beyond its death toll. Around a quarter of a million children have lost a caregiver to the virus, including about 200,000 who lost one or both parents. Every COVID-related death leaves an estimated nine people grieving.
The virus has hit certain industries harder than others, with food and agriculture, warehouse operations and manufacturing, and transportation and construction seeing especially high death rates.
People’s mental health has also been affected, with a study in January of five Western countries including the U.S. finding that 13% of people reported symptoms of PTSD attributable to actual or potential contact with the virus.
Fifteen Million Dead
On Thursday, the World Health Organization estimated that nearly 15 million people have died from the pandemic worldwide, a dramatic revision from the 5.4 million previously reported in official statistics.
Between January 2020 and the end of last year, the WHO estimated that between 13.3 million and 16.6 million people died either due to the coronavirus directly or because of factors somehow attributed to the pandemic’s impact on health systems, such as cancer patients who were unable to seek treatment when hospitals were full of COVID patients.
Based on that range, scientists arrived at an approximate total of 14.9 million.
The new estimate shows a 13% increase in deaths than is usually expected for a two-year period.
“This may seem like just a bean-counting exercise, but having these WHO numbers is so critical to understanding how we should combat future pandemics and continue to respond to this one,” Dr. Albert Ko, an infectious diseases specialist at the Yale School of Public Health who was not linked to the WHO research, told the Associated Press.
Most of the deaths occurred in Southeast Asia, Europe, and the Americas.
According to the WHO, India counts the most deaths by far with 4.7 million, ten times its official number.
See what others are saying: (NBC) (U.S. News and World Report) (Scientific American)
Official Says Missing Alabama Convict and Corrections Officer Had a “Special Relationship”
Authorities have also said they now believe the officer willfully helped the inmate escape.
New Information on Missing Inmate & Officer
Authorities in Alabama revealed Tuesday that Assistant Director of Corrections for Lauderdale County Vicky White, who is accused of helping a murder suspect Casey Cole White escape from jail, had a “special relationship” with the inmate.
“Investigators received information from inmates at the Lauderdale County Detention Center over the weekend that there was a special relationship between Director White and inmate Casey White,” Lauderdale County Sheriff Rick Singleton said in a statement. “That relationship has now been confirmed through our investigation by independent sources and means.”
Officials have previously said that the two are not related, despite their shared surname.
Singleton elaborated on the nature of the relationship while speaking to CNN later on Tuesday. He said it took place “outside of her normal work hours” and added that although it did not include “physical contact,” he still characterized it as “a relationship of a different nature.”
“We were told Casey White got special privileges and was treated differently while in the facility than the other inmates,” Singleton said.
Also on Tuesday, the Marshals Service issued a statement confirming that authorities believe Officer White had helped Mr. White escape. The authorities described her as a “wanted fugitive” and offered a $5,000 reward for any information on her whereabouts. Earlier this week, the Marshals Service also offered a $10,000 reward for any information that could lead to Mr. White’s capture.
Singleton echoed the belief that Officer White’s actions were intentional while speaking to Good Morning America Wednesday.
“I think all of our employees and myself included were really hoping that she did not participate in this willingly. But all indications are that she absolutely did,” he said. “We’re very disappointed in that because we had the utmost trust in her as an employee and as an assistant director of corrections.”
Vicky White and Casey White were last seen leaving the Lauderdale County jail just after 9:30 a.m. Friday. The officer told other employees that she was taking the inmate to a mental health evaluation at a courthouse just down the road, and that she would be going to a medical appointment after because she was not feeling well.
Officials later said her actions violated an official policy that required two sworn deputies to transport people with murder charges. In 2020, Mr. White was charged with two counts of capital murder in connection to a fatal stabbing he confessed to and was awaiting his trial in Lauderdale County.
Mr. White was also serving time for what officials said was a “crime spree” in 2015 which included home invasion, carjacking, and a police chase. He had also previously tried to escape from jail, police said.
It wasn’t until 3:30 p.m. on Friday that a jail employee reported to higher-ups that he was not able to reach Officer White on her phone and that Mr. White had never been returned to his cell.
During a press conference that same night, Singleton told reporters that there had never even been a scheduled mental health evaluation. At another briefing Monday, he announced that an arrest warrant had been issued for Vicky on a charge of “permitting or facilitating an escape in the first degree.”
At the time, Singleton said it was unclear “whether she did that willingly or was coerced or threatened” but added, “we know for sure she did participate.”