CALIFORNIA — The Golden State's elected officials and top health brass have predetermined who will get the first coronavirus vaccines, and as far as the average Californian knows, there isn't a line-cutting price tag attached to Pfizer or Moderna's product — but the wealthy will try anyway.
One patient even offered a whopping $25,000 donation to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles for the early opportunity to be vaccinated, Dr. Jeff Toll told several news outlets. Toll's private medical practice has admittance privileges at Cedars.
Toll's practice serves a particularly affluent clientele — chief executives and celebrities — but Toll told his client that they too would have to wait in line, according to multiple reports.
Earlier this week, California's long-awaited COVID-19 rollout brought some 327,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine to the state, many of which were immediately administered to front-line health workers. Doctors, nurses and those working and living in long term care were predesignated to head the vaccine line.
With just 393,000 Pfizer vaccines arriving next week and 672,000 doses of the newly approved Moderna arriving by the end of the month, it will be a bit of a wait even for California's 2.4 million health care workers to see the vaccine.
The general public, those listed at the bottom of the state's tiered priority system, isn't expected to start receiving vaccines until next spring or even summer.
While it remains to be seen whether money really can buy everything, the state is maintaining that it can't.
"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," Gov. Gavin Newsom said earlier this week. "We also will be monitoring that very, very closely."
Newsom, who exhibited some of his own well-heeled privilege after attending an elite soiree at Napa-Valley's French Laundry, has repeatedly balked at the prospect of cutting the line.
"We will prioritize, and we will expect that everyone in the health care delivery system is held to the same ethical standard of prioritizing truly, those that are most in need," he said last week.
Meanwhile Toll's practice isn't the only office receiving such bloated offers.
The phone over at Concierge MD in Beverly Hills has reportedly been ringing off the proverbial hook lately, with hundreds of callers offering up large swelling sums for an early dose.
"They wanted it yesterday," Dr. David Nazarian, of My Concierge MD, told CNN. "We will play by the rules but are doing everything we can to secure and distribute the vaccine when its available to us."
And the founder of Concierge MD LA, Dr. Abe Malkin, said he's gotten more than a hundred calls from people trying to elbow their way to early access, CNN reported.
Some have little faith in the state's tiered prioritization, which would vaccine the most vulnerable first. Taryn Vian, a health sector anti-corruption expert who teaches at the University of San Francisco told the Los Angles Times that well off folks could get their hands on vaccines by simply tapping the shoulders of equally powerful friends.
Those friends could be a leader of a pharmaceutical company, a medical distributor, hospital or nursing home, the Times reported.
Vian told the Times, "V.I.P. treatment is very common" in the healthcare industry.
The chatter of cutting such a line comes during an otherwise acute moment of the coronavirus pandemic in California, where intensive care units all over the state are under seige, with hospital space dwindling as well.
The southern reaches of the state entered a dire situation when both the San Joaquin Valley and the Southern California regions completely ran out of ICU unit beds. Farther north, the Bay Area reported 12.2 percent, the Greater Sacramento region reported 15 percent and Northern California recorded 22.4 percent capacity Saturday.
As of Saturday, the San Joaquin Valley, Southern California, Greater Sacramento and the Bay Area were under Newsom's Regional Stay-At-Home Order. Those regions, all experiencing significant case spikes and a wave of seriously infected patients, will remain under the order until ICU capacity levels back to 15 percent.
California reported a staggering 43,608 cases Saturday, a 2.5 percent increase from the previous day. The state further reported 272 coronavirus related deaths, up 1.2 percent from Friday.
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